A primary source is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic (the first version). A primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation.
So when should someone use primary sources? To read eyewitness accounts or view photographs or video of an event instead of relying on a summarized explanation; to interpret data yourself instead of relying on another's interpretation; to reflect on and analyze works of literature or art instead of relying on another's opinion; to verify claims made in secondary sources.
Some examples of primary sources include:
Some good places to start would be some of our databases:
Remember, however, that primary sources are original sources. Asking for interviews, checking museums or other places that specialize in local history, or looking through government documents are all great ways to research using primary sources.
Search the National Archives for collections of documents that are important to American History.
The Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The series, which is produced by the Department of State's Office of the Historian, began in 1861 and now comprises more than 450 individual volumes. The volumes published over the last two decades increasingly contain declassified records from all the foreign affairs agencies.