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University Library DePaul Library

What is a Primary Source?

What are primary sources? Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. Primary sources can be treaties, photographs, legislation, diaries, speeches, interviews, letters, manuscripts, newspaper articles, artifacts, or other materials.  Depending on your field of study, a primary source might also be an original scientific experiment or anthropological fieldwork.

Primary sources are not books or journal articles that provide secondary analysis, or describe something that happened somewhere else.

Primary sources can be in any format.  Primary sources might be original documents in archives, republished in a contemporary book, available online, or preserved on microfilm.  The content of the material -- rather than the format -- determines whether or not it's a primary source.

Historical Documents

Using Books to Find Primary Sources

Published books can be a wonderful, simple way to access primary sources.
Use the following phrases and terms in LibrarySearch to find books containing primary sources
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • maps
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • photographs
  • speeches
  • sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are sources that allow researchers to get as close as possible to what happened during a historical time or event. Often, these resources are created at the time the event is occurring.

For more help with primary sources see How to Find Primary Resources.