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What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are produced by participants or direct observers of an issue, event or time period.  These sources may be recorded during the event or later on, by a participant reflecting upon the event. In some cases, it will be difficult to obtain the original source, so you may have to rely on copies (photocopies, microfilm, digital copies).

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Newspapers

  • Speeches

  • Government Documents

  • Legal Documents

  • Public Opinion Polls

  • Personal Materials, including letters, diaries, interviews memoirs, autobiographies and oral histories

  • Images

Consider these questions when using a primary source:

While primary sources are often desirable for the raw, non-interpreted information they provide, it is important to analyze them for your research. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the creator and what was their relationship to the event or issue?

  • Why did the creator produce this source?

  • Was the source for personal use?  For a large audience?

  • Was the source intended to be public (newspaper) or private (correspondence)?

  • How neutral was the creator?  What biases or interests might have influenced how the source was created?

  • Can the source be substantiated by other primary sources?  Can you confirm what the creator is saying?

Where to search

Place to Search Newspapers Speeches Government Documents Legal Documents Public Opinion Polls Personal Materials Images
American Memory      
American Rhetoric          
Avalon Project          
FindLaw (includes Supreme Court opinions)          
Google News            
Historical Newspapers (databases list)            
Lexis Nexis Academic          
Library Catalog
             
     
National Archives      
  Newspapers Speeches Government Documents Legal Documents Public Opinion Polls Personal Materials Images
Newspapers (databases list)            
New York Public Library Digital Gallery            
Polling the Nations            
ProQuest Congressional            
Teaching American History        
USA.gov            

Vital Speeches of the Day
Found in Academic Search Complete
             

         
  Newspapers Speeches Government Documents Legal Documents Public Opinion Polls Personal Materials Images
 

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