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Primary sources for history

Primary sources across time periods and countries

What are primary sources?

  • Primary sources can be either published or unpublished.
  • Can be found in many formats, such as: diaries, memoirs, paintings, manuscripts, books, newspaper articles, microfilm, photographs, video and sound recordings.
  • Some primary sources are available in more than one format -- for example, a collection of manuscript letters may also have been published in book form, or may have been digitized and made available on the Internet.
  • A primary course is anything which tells us about the event or what people thought or did at that time. It is NOT an account or interpretation of events written years or centuries afterwards.
  • Sources can be translated or republished, so always look carefully at the date of the original document.


This diagram from Dr Gareth Pritchard, History Department, University of Adelaide, will help.

 

Test your knowledge of primary sources below: