Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what happened during an historical event or time period and how it was perceived by the participants and observers. Primary sources are the evidence, the raw materials that historians use to make new observations and interpretations of an event, place, era, or other historical phenomenon.
The following are generally considered primary sources:
Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts and other papers in which individuals describe eventsin which they were participants or observers.
Memoirs and autobiographies. These are generally less reliable since they are usually written long after events occurredand may be distorted by bias, dimming memory or the revised perspective that may come with hindsight. On the otherhand, they are sometimes the only source for certain information.
Records of organizations and agencies of government. The minutes, reports, correspondence, etc. of an organization oragency serve as an ongoing record of the activity and thinking of that organization or agency. Many kinds of records(births, deaths, marriages; permits and licenses issued; census data; etc.) document conditions in the society.
Published materials (books, magazine and journal articles, newspaper articles) written at the time about a particular event. While these are sometimes accounts by participants, in most cases they are written by journalists or other observers. The important thing is to distinguish between material written at the time of an event as a kind of report, and material writtenmuch later, as historical analysis.
Photographs, audio recordings and moving pictures drawings, paintings, political cartoons or video recordings,documenting what happened.
Artifacts of all kinds: physical objects, buildings, furniture, tools, appliances and household items, clothing, toys.
If you are attempting to find evidence documenting the mentality or psychology of a time, or of a group (evidence of a worldview, a set of attitudes, or the popular understanding of an event or condition), the most obvious source is public opinionpolls taken at the time. Since these are generally very limited in availability and in what they reveal, however, it is alsopossible to make use of ideas and images conveyed in the mass media, and even in literature, film, popular fiction,self-help literature, textbooks, etc. Again, the point is to use these sources, written or produced at the time, as evidenceof how people were thinking.