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Primary Sources: Home

This guide is an introduction to primary sources research.

About This Guide

This guide provides a short introduction to primary sources and where to find them.  It also offers some tips for preparing for a research trip to a library or archives.

Manuscripts vs Archives

Manuscript Collection = a collection of papers created or collected by an individual during his/her lifetime; also called personal papers.

Archives = a collection of historical documents created by an organization in the course of conducting business; may also be applied to a collection assembled from various sources.

Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, speeches, memoirs, results of experiments, statistical data, creative writing, unpublished manuscripts and archives, and audio and video recordings, among other documents. Interviews, surveys, and digital communications, including blogs and emails are also primary sources. Reports of direct observation from research, field studies, or experiments are also primary sources.

Letter by Bishop McTyeire, 1883In the case of organizations, primary sources are documents created by the organization in the course of its operation.  These documents can include annual reports, internal memorandums, letters, audio or video recordings, promotional material, and artifacts.

Primary sources help modern researchers interpret events in the context of the period in which it took place.  They can also offer insight into the personal, social, religious, and political views of individuals who experienced the event.

For organizations, primary sources can provide a glimpse into the decisions taking place behind the scenes which affected the direction of the organization.  They can also illustrate the history of the organization and its development over time.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are documents created by people removed in time from an historical event, or who were not present when the event happened.  Secondary sources may include reactions and opinions of people far removed from the event being studied.  Samples of secondary sources include textbooks, biographies, essays, and literary criticism.

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