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Primary Resources: Primary Resources

What they are and where to find them.

Primary Resources

The Ohio Historical Society defines primary sources as a “source created by people who actually saw or participated in an event and recorded that event or their reactions to it immediately after the event.” Examples include:

  • 1. Diaries, journals, speeches, letters, interviews, office memos and other papers.
  • 2. Memoirs and autobiographies describing events that the author was present for.
  • 3. Government documents including census records.
  • 4. Reports produced by organizations.
  • 5. Books, journals and newspapers if written at the time of the event.
  • 6. Photographs, audio tapes, and other media.
  • 7. Research data documenting scientific experiments.
  • 8. Popular works, educational material and other writings that document ideas or psychology of a particular timeframe.
  • 9. Artifacts of the period, including buildings, household items, and art.

Primary resources provide the reader with a “You are there” experience. They should be critically evaluated to assess the author’s point of view, bias, and agenda for writing. For example, a politician’s personal letter written to his wife may provide a truer indication of the motivation for his actions than the words from a speech he gave or how that speech was reported by the local newspaper. Yet all three should be examined to thoroughly understand the times in which they were written. This video Historical Primary Sources by Randall Niles, explains the need to examine original articles as much as possible.

The Ohio Historical Society also defines secondary sources as a “source created by someone either not present when the event took place or removed by time from the event.” With secondary resources, significant time has passed to permit an in-depth evaluation. Secondary sources include scholarly or popular books, articles, reference books, and textbooks.

Primary Resources in Maag Library Collections
Primary Resources on the Internet

European Library, is a free service that offers access to the resources of the 47 national libraries of Europe.

The following sites are excellent starting places for Ohio and U.S. history.