Primary source

artifact, document, diary, manuscript, autobiography, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study

A primary source is an original document or other material that has not been changed in any way.[1] It is a reliable first-hand account usually written at or near the time the event(s) occurred.[2] Usually it was produced by someone with direct personal knowledge of the events that are described. It is used as an original source of information about the topic.[3] Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources. Secondary sources are documents based on primary sources.[4] Thus, a memoir of a participant in an event is a primary source, whilst a history of that event based on several memoirs is a secondary source. Different kinds of work have slightly different definitions of a primary source.[5] In journalism, for example, a primary source can also be a person.



  1. "Primary, secondary and tertiary sources". James Cook University. 9 January 2014. Archived from the original on 6 November 2014. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  2. "Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources". University Libraries, University of Maryland. 3 February 2014. Archived from the original on 8 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  3. In library and information sciences, primary sources are generally regarded as those sources closest to the origin of the information or idea under study. ("Primary, secondary and tertiary sources" Archived 2009-12-30 at the Wayback Machine and "Library Guides: Primary, secondary and tertiary sources" Archived 2005-02-12 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Jerome Clauser, An Introduction to Intelligence Research and Analysis (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008), p. 69
  5. "Primary vs Secondary". Old Dominion University Libraries. September 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2014.


  • Jules R. Benjamin. A Student's Guide to History (2003)
  • Kathleen W. Craver. Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History (1999)
  • Thomas Cripps, "Historical Truth: An Interview with Ken Burns", American Historical Review 100 (1995), 741-64. online at JSTOR
  • Michael Drake and Ruth Finnegan (Eds), Sources and Methods for Family and Community Historians: A Handbook, (Cambridge University Press in conjunction with the Open University, 1997)
  • Wood Gray, Historian's handbook, a key to the study and writing of history (Houghton Mifflin, 1964).
  • Martha C. Howell and Walter Prevenier. From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods (2001)
  • Library of Congress, " Analysis of Primary Sources" online 2007
  • Richard A. Marius and Melvin E. Page. A Short Guide to Writing About History (5th Edition) (2004)
  • Barbara W. Sommer and Mary Kay Quinlan, The Oral History Manual (2002)

Other websites

- to primary sources repositories

- to all sources repositories

- to essays and descriptions of primary, secondary and other sources