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Using Primary Sources: What's a primary source?

This LibGuide is designed to provide students with a basic introduction to primary sources and to give them some places to begin locating primary source documents.

Examples include:

This recruiting poster from World War II and others like it.

What's 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.

--from The American Library Association

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) 

-- from The University of Nevada, Reno

For a closer look at different types of primary sources, see Yale University's detailed discussion.