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Stony Brook University


Resources for Research in History

Primary Sources

Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied.

In historiography, a primary source (also called original source) is a document, recording, artifact, or other source of information that was created at the time under study, usually by a source with direct personal knowledge of the events being described. It serves as an original source of information about the topic.

Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources, which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources, though the distinction is not a sharp one. "Primary" and "secondary" are relative terms, with sources judged primary or secondary according to specific historical contexts and what is being studied. [From Wikipedia]

Tips on searching primary sources:

  • limit searches to the timeframe of your topic
  • use keywords from your background research to pinpoint specific people, places, and institutions related to your topic
  • in most databases you can tighten up your search results by searching phrases in quotes: "Watergate hotel", "Volstead Act"

Selected Primary Sources on the Web