What is a Primary Source?
A primary source is usually a record made at the time of an event by participants or by firsthand observers, but a primary source might also be created many years after the event in the form of an autobiography, memoir, etc.
Examples include, but are not limited to:
- contemporary newspaper or magazine accounts
- diaries, memoirs, or autobiographies
- congressional hearings
- government reports
- government/organizational archives
- manuscripts (the papers of an individual or family)
Primary sources can be very different for different subjects. If you are writing a paper about an early female physician, for example, then her diary would be a primary source. If you are studying mid-twentieth century diplomatic history between the United States and Iraq, State Department records (such as Confidential U.S. State Department Central Files: Iraq, 1955-1959, available on Microfilm 498) would be a primary source.
If you are unsure what constitutes a primary source for your class, ask your instructor for some ideas.