Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied, such as, a childhood memoir. They are original documents (i.e., they are not about another document or account) and reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources represent direct, uninterpreted records of the subject of your research study.
Primary sources enable you to get as close as possible to understanding the lived experiences of others and discovering what actually happened during an event. However, what constitutes a primary or secondary source depends on the context in which it is being used. For example, David McCullough’s biography of John Adams could be a secondary source for a paper about John Adams, but a primary source for a paper about how various historians have interpreted the life of John Adams. When in doubt, ask a librarian for assistance!
Reviewing primary source material can be of value in improving your overall research paper because they:
Examples of primary documents you could review as part of your overall study include:
* Artifacts (e.g. furniture or clothing, all from the time under study);
* Audio recordings (e.g. radio programs)
* Internet communications on email, listservs;
* Interviews (e.g., oral histories, telephone, e-mail);
* Newspaper articles written at the time;
* Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript);
* Proceedings of Meetings, conferences and symposia;
* Records of organizations, government agencies (e.g. annual report, treaty, constitution, government document);
* Survey Research (e.g., market surveys, public opinion polls);
* Transcripts of radio and television programs
* Video recordings;
* Works of art, architecture, literature, and music (e.g., paintings, sculptures, musical scores, buildings, novels, poems).
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