Primary Sources

Primary Sources

A primary sources is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study.  A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art.  These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event.  Some types of primary sources include: 

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS: Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings
  • DIGITAL WORK:  Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups
  • AUDIO AND VIDEO:  Films, TV programs, digital recordings, radio broadcast recordings, oral histories and recorded music

Examples of primary sources include:

Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 

  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history 
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece

Getting Started With Primary Sources

There are a myriad of sites that offer help with using primary sources in the classroom.  Follow the links below for more information.

Primary Sources in the Classroom - The National Archives offers tips on using primary sources with education.

Kathy Schrock's Guide to Primary Sources - Collection of ideas and links to online sources.

Engaging Students with Primary Sources - The Smithsonian has developed a detailed guide for using primary sources with students.

Citing Primary Sources

Citation of primary sources is necessary to give credit to the source and/or author of the document, poem, art work, etc.  Also, failure to cite a source is viewed as plagiarism.  Click the link below to determine how to properly cite primary sources of various types.

Library of Congress Citation Guide

Links to Primary Sources

Library of Congress - The Library of Congress has a wealth of information available to the public online and in the library, mostly about American history and culture.

The WV Encyclopedia - A comprehensive reference resource for the Mountain State.

New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts - Here you can search archives for full-text resources and more. If something isn’t available online, you can also connect with a librarian to find a similar match.

The John Adams Library at the Boston Public Library - This library project in Massachusetts features full electronic cataloging of the entire John Adams Library collection, as well as typed transcripts and manuscripts, and a gallery exhibition.

The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley - This unique library in California holds rare books, manuscripts and other primary sources, including 8 million photographs, 43,000 microforms and 23,000 maps.

British Library - The British Library features a “help for researchers” page, which lets you narrow down your search by topic, time period and resource type.

The Smithsonian - Find everything from original art and design pieces to science, technology, American history and more.

American Museum of Natural History - Read about the research projects undertaken by curators at this famous museum and view permanent collections of iridescent gemstones, the Audubon Gallery and more.

Explore Art The Getty Museum - The Getty Museum’s website features a collection overview and lets you browse artists, subjects, acquisitions and types of art.

Core Documents of U.S. Democracy - Access The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, The Federalist Papers, Gettysburg Address and more.

Euro-Docs - Get transcriptions and translations of historical documents going back to ancient and prehistoric Greece, Cyprus and more.

U.S. Copyright Office - Find registration information, restored copyrights and more for music, art and more.

Calisphere - This website is “a world or primary sources and more.” You’ll find themed collections about the Gold Rush, The Great Depression and more.

100 Milestone Documents - A list of 100 milestone documents, compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration, and drawn primarily from its nationwide holdings. The documents chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.

Primary Source Sites on the Web - Many of the sites provide sources that have been prepared for the classroom, from excerpting lengthy documents to providing clear headnotes and source information.

Primary Source Nexus - Funded by a grant from the Library of Congress PSN provides no-cost teacher professional development to help K-12 educators provide high-quality classroom instruction using the millions of digitized primary sources available from www.loc.gov.