What is a Primary Source?
Primary sources that are thoughtfully selected can help to bring history and cultures to life for students. Most basically, they are defined as the direct evidence of a time and place that you are studying – any material (documents, objects, etc.) that was produced by eyewitnesses to or participants in an event or historical moment under investigation. Secondary sources, in contrast, are interpretations – often generated by scholars – that are based upon the examination of multiple primary sources.
What are examples of primary sources?
Historians and other scholars have been very inventive in identifying and utilizing a wide-range of primary sources, especially when attempting to write the histories of groups and individuals that have been excluded from access to formal written records. The following are examples of primary sources when they are used to answer questions about the time or place in which they were produced.
- works of art such as paintings/sculptures/quilts
- music and songs
- census records
- court or government records
- immigration records
- maps from the place or time
- ships' logs
- ledger books
- labor records
- recorded oral histories and people speaking for themselves
- texts or recordings of speeches
- architectural landmarks
- sound recordings
- documentary film
Why use them in the classroom?
Primary and secondary sources are both essential to the study of people and cultures past and present, and students should be introduced to both types of materials and learn to utilize them together to construct understanding. As an organization, Primary Source believes that students often connect deeply with a subject and develop passion for it when they are given the opportunity to encounter the "real stuff" of history, the encouragement to form questions and research answers, and assignments that allow them to take initiative and make genuine discoveries. Primary sources can play a unique role in this type of learning.