Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Primary Sources for History: What is a primary source?

Various primary sources

Primary Sources

Rigid classification of primary or secondary sources can distort and misrepresent. It is impossible to assign a label to a source without knowing how it is used as evidence. The nature of a source does not derive from the kind of object it is, but rather from the purpose it serves in a historical investigation

Usually, a primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources might include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 

  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art

  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

 Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 

  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 

  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 

  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history 

  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece