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Primary Government Documents

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Lawrence Mello
Assistant University Librarian, Government Information and Maps Coordinator & Instruction and Engagement Department

S.E. Wimberly Library, LY 149

If you like a Research Consultation you can schedule a Zoom appointment with me!
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What is a Primary Source?

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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 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 

Primary sources can include charters, correspondence, diaries, early works, interviews, manuscripts, oratory, pamphlets, personal narratives, speeches, letters, and documents.

Source: Princeton University

In contrast, a secondary source of information is one created later by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in the events or conditions you are researching. Secondary sources are works that analyze, assess, or interpret a historical event, era, or phenomenon, generally utilizing primary sources to do so.  Secondary sources often offer a review or a critique. Secondary sources can include books, journal articles, speeches, reviews, research reports, and more. 

Source: University of California Libraries

Primary vs Secondary Sources