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History203: Nations, States, and Violence: Getting Started

What is a primary source?

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history 
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece 

“What Is a Primary Source?” 2013. Princeton. Accessed September 19.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Unsure about the difference between a primary and secondary source? This short, interactive video can help!


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Primary vs. Secondary

Here is a quick comparison between primary and secondary sources:


Primary Sources
Secondary Sources
Original works of literature, art, music Criticism of original work
Newspaper accounts of events, by someone on the scene Newspaper editorial
Diary, autobiography, letters, oral testimony Biography
Historical documents, such as laws or treaties Historical commentary
Television show or motion picture Review
Raw data from questionnaires Social science article based on another's data
Observation/experiment Scientific article based on another's experiment

*chart from: “Primary and Secondary Sources.” 2013. Chapman University Leatherby Libraries. Accessed September 19.

Subject Guide

Rebecca Seipp's picture
Rebecca Seipp
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MSIS, Information Science
The University of Texas at Austin
BA, History
Southwestern University