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Resources by Material / Type

Finding Primary Sources

Primary sources are direct, uninterpreted records of the subject of your research project. A primary source is as close as you can get to the event, person, phenomenon, or other subject of your research. As such, a primary source can be almost anything, depending on the subject and purpose of your research. There is no clear or set line between primary and secondary sources (books, articles, and other writings by scholars and researchers that interpret, critique, and assess primary information); it depends on the purpose and perspective of your research project.

Here are a few common examples of primary sources, but be creative in thinking of possible relevant primary sources of information on your topic --

- History: Material or cultural artifacts, official records and documents, contemporary newspaper articles, diaries, letters, memoirs.

- Humanities: Literary works, artistic productions or performances, rough drafts or manuscripts, author's or artist's notes or journals about works in progress.

- Social sciences: Material or cultural artifacts, quantitative or qualitative data collected or generated by researchers, government documents, interviews, speeches, photographs.

- Sciences: Reports of original findings, such as peer reviewed articles in academic journals. Even more primordial: lab or field reports, data generated by experiments or observations.


Where to find primary sources:

Bibliographies of secondary sources: Books and articles on your topic not only provide a framework for understanding and interpreting primary sources, they often cite a range of primary sources in their bibliographies. Do a topic search in OneSearch to find sources of all types on your topic, including primary sources and also secondary sources that cite primary sources.

Primary source databases: Some of the library's databases compile digitized primary sources of various types, or point to archives of primary source materials. 

Other databases or collections of types of sources, such as ones listing newspapers, images, audio, or video, which may include things that would count as primary sources for your project.

Wesleyan's Special Collections and Archives has a wide variety of primary sources.