Primary Sources in History

Guide to finding primary sources in history.

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Primary Documents

What are Primary Sources?

  • Yale University Library provides an excellent description of primary sources.

    "Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format."

Primary documents can be

  • diaries
  • dispatches
  • law cases
  • letters
  • maps
  • newspapers
  • oral histories
  • speeches
  • senate and house hearings
  • treaties

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