Primary Sources: Home

Help for finding primary source documents on the web and in Neumann Library

What is a Primary Source?

handwritten correspondence, a film, and a map

Primary sources:

  • are "fundamental, authoritative documents relating to a subject, ...e.g., original records, contemporary documents, etc."*
  • first-hand accounts by a direct participant or witness
  • are generally uninterpreted with analysis and context provided in secondary source books and journal articles
  • may include letters, diaries, interviews, photographs, films, maps, government documents, field notes, and more

For the natural and social sciences, primary sources include the original account of a research study, typically published as an article in a scholarly journal. Find a fuller explanation in the SUNY Albany and Virginia Polytechnic resources below.

For the arts, history, and humanities, original primary source documents usually are housed in museums, archives, restricted library collections, and government offices. Reproductions often can be found in online digital collections, microform collections, books, and other secondary works.

*Young, Heartsill, ed. The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science. Chicago: American Library Association, 1983, p.176

Video: Understanding Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Learn to distinguish and when to use these types of information sources, with examples for the Arts and Humanities and the Natural and Social Sciences (summary notes). By Credo Reference/Literati.

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