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Primary & Secondary Source Research

What are primary sources in the humanities/social sciences?

Primary sources are original, firsthand perspectives

  • Unedited, firsthand access to words, images, or objects created by persons directly involved in an activity or event or speaking directly for a group
    • Can be created after an event, but from someone who was involved
  • Information before it has been analyzed, interpreted, commented upon, spun, repackaged, etc.

Primary sources may include:

  • art
  • artifacts
  • diaries/journals
  • government documents
  • laws
  • letters
  • maps
  • memoirs/autobiographies
  • news sources from a specific time period
  • oral histories/interviews
  • photographs
  • political cartoons
  • postcards
  • social media posts

Analyzing Primary Sources

From the How to Read a Primary Source guide at Bowdoin College:

  • Purpose of the author in preparing the document

  • Argument and strategy they use to achieve those goals

  • Presuppositions and values (in the text, and our own)

  • Epistemology (evaluating truth content)

  • Relation to other texts (compare and contrast)