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Primary Sources: Home

Guide to finding and using primary sources in the McGraw-Page Library.

What are primary sources, and why use them?

Primary sources are documents or artifacts that provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence about an event, person, or place.  Primary sources can be written documents, maps, photographs, audio or visual media, physical objects - almost anything!

Primary sources are important because they are the original source of our knowledge about someone or something. 

Primary or Secondary

PRIMARY sources are original materials, created in the period being considered. They are usually just the document, information or artifact, without external evaluation or commentary. 

Examples of primary sources include:

  • reports of original research, often published in scholarly journals or books.
  • original works of fiction (i.e. novels, plays, poems and stories).
  • original works of art (i.e. paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs).
  • manuscripts, correspondence, diaries and autobiographies, interviews and other first-hand accounts.
  • contemporary news stories.
  • objects and artifacts.
  • research notes, raw data and statistics.

SECONDARY sources are removed one or more steps from the original item, time or creator. They offer interpretation or commentary on the historical event and they include a layer of analysis made by a second party.

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • summaries or analyses of research done by others.
  • biographies.
  • art reproductions (i.e. a poster of the Mona Lisa).
  • reviews of books, movies, art shows, plays and other performances.
  • summaries or analyses of past events.
  • textbooks and encyclopedias.

Please note that Primary and Secondary classifications are NOT the same as Popular and Scholarly!


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Lynda Wright
McGraw-Page Library