What is a Primary Source?
"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories." Some examples of primary sources might be: serials (journals, magazines, etc.), government documents, memoirs, artifacts, photos, and even works of art.
Primary documents fall into 3 categories:
- original documents (e.g. official government documents)
- creative works (e.g. music from the period)
- relics or artifacts (e.g. jewelry)
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
How to Use a Primary Source
When conducting research, your teachers expect you to evalaute all of your sources carefully to be certain you've got current, accurate, and objective information.
Just as with secondary sources, primary sources can be biased or skewed based on the author's perspective. But primary sources can also come with other pitfalls. So, in addition to the basic source evaluation, when you're using primary sources you need to ask some additional questions.
Evaluating a primary source -- questions to ask before reading:
- What type of source is it?
- Who created it? Is the author/creator reliable? Did the author/creator have first-hand information available? What is his/her relationship to the event documented?
- Is the source genuine? How do you know? When, where, and how was it created?
- Who was the intended audience? How do you know? How was this material presented to its original audience?
- What was the creator's purpose in creating this source? How do you know?
- What questions remain about this source?