Skip to Main Content

Primary Sources Guide

How to find primary source materials in the McGraw-Page Library in a variety of disciplines

Primary sources are documents or artifacts that provide firsthand information created in the time period being studied. Primary sources can be written documents, maps, photographs, audio or visual media, data sets, statistics, physical objects and other types of materials. 

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

Types of primary sources can vary depending on the discipline you are working in. 
See the information in the sidebar tabs for information about primary sources in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences, and Health Sciences. 

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