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Primary Sources

Learn what primary sources are, how to find them and how to use them in your assignments.

Primary Sources


  • Materials that contain first-hand testimony, direct evidence or an eyewitness account of a topic or event
  • Contemporary accounts, produced at the time or place under investigation
  • Factual, raw data, not an interpretation or analysis

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Personal Correspondence: Letters, diaries, emails, social media posts
  • News Media: newspaper articles, radio and television broadcasts created at the time of the event
  • Ephemera: posters, pamphlets, flyers, coupons, advertisements
  • Artistic Expressions: Paintings, sculptures, photographs, objets d'art, performances
  • Archival Material: Manuscripts, public records, documents held in archival collections
  • Original Texts: Texts produced during the time under investigation eg:
    • writings of ancient authors: Homer, Plutarch etc.
    • books written by important thinkers or scholars who are themselves the subject of research: Books or articles written by Freud, Malthus, McLuhan etc.
  • Government Documents: Policy statements, legislation, debates or proceedings
  • Raw Data: datasets without analysis

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