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DSCI 350M/LIB 350M Humanities Research Data Management

A course guide for Humanities Research Data Management

What are Primary Sources?

What are Primary Sources?

Primary Sources: What are they?

They are material that contain first-hand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness.

Primary sources emphasize the lack of intermediaries between the thing or events being studied and reports of those things or events based on the belief that firsthand accounts are more accurate.

Examples of primary sources include:

  • letters and diaries;
  • government, church, and business records;
  • oral histories;
  • photographs,
  • motion pictures, and videos;
  • maps and land records;
  • and blueprints.
  • Newspaper articles contemporaneous with the events described are traditionally considered primary sources, although the reporter may have compiled the story from witnesses, rather than being an eyewitness.
  • Artifacts and specimens may also be primary evidence if they are the object of study.

- definition supplied by the Society of American Archivists Archivist's Dictionary

What is NOT a primary source?

Secondary Sources are NOT Primary Sources

Secondary sources usually use primary sources and offer interpretation, analysis, or commentary. These resources often present primary source information with the addition of hindsight or historical perspective.

Common examples include:

  • criticisms
  • histories
  • magazines
  • journals
  • newspaper articles written after the fact

Some secondary sources may also be considered primary or tertiary sources

Tertiary Sources are NOT Primary Sources

Tertiary sources are further developments of secondary sources, often summaries of information found in primary and secondary sources and collecting many sources together.

Some examples of tertiary sources are encyclopedias and textbooks.