Primary sources for the Americas.
Fact Sheet: Primary Sources
What is a Primary Source?
Primary sources are original records of the political, economic, artistic, scientific, social, and
intellectual thoughts and achievements of specific historical periods. Produced by the people
who participated in and witnessed the past, primary sources offer a variety of points of view
and perspectives of events, issues, people, and places. These records can be found anywhere—
in a home, a government archive, etc.—the important thing to remember is they were used or created by
someone with firsthand experience of an event.
Examples of Primary Sources:
Primary sources are not just documents and written records. There are many different kinds of primary sources,
including: first-person accounts, documents, physical artifacts, scientific data that has been collected but not interpreted,
and face-to-face mentors with specific knowledge or expertise. Primary sources also take a variety of formats—
examples of these are listed below.
How do Primary and Secondary Sources differ?
While primary sources are the original records created by firsthand witnesses of an event, secondary sources are
documents, texts, images, and objects about an event created by someone who typically referenced the primary
sources for their information. Textbooks are excellent examples of secondary sources.
Why is it important for students to use Primary Sources?
1. Direct engagement with artifacts and records of the past encourages deeper content exploration, active analysis,
and thoughtful response.
2. Analysis of primary sources helps students develop critical thinking skills by examining meaning, context, bias,
purpose, point of view, etc.
3. Primary source analysis fosters learner-led inquiry as students construct knowledge by interacting with a variety
of sources that represent different accounts of the past.
4. Students realize that history exists through interpretation that reflects the view points and biases of those doing
Published collections generally use the word "sources" and “history” as part of the Library of Congress Subject Heading(s) assigned to the record :
Examples of Subject Headings:
France--History--Philip III, 1270-1285--Sources
United States--History--19th century--Sources
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Sources
Notice that the word History and Sources are used in each of these Subject Headings. If you are uncertain of the exact Subject Heading, rather than a Subject Search try a Keyword search. Type your keyword and link it together with AND plus the word "sources." ( Churchill AND sources)
THOMAS was launched in January of 1995, at the inception of the 104th Congress. The leadership of the 104th Congress directed the Library of Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public. Since that time THOMAS has expanded the scope of its offerings to include the features and content listed below.
Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research.
Source: American Library Association