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Topic: What is a Primary Source? — Overview

Why are Primary Sources Important for my Research?

If you're a history student, or in any course where your research must be based on historical evidence, you need to know how to find primary sources and how to effectively use the information they provide.  By using primary sources you can create your own interpretation about an event in history, or you can create new knowledge about the event.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history. They are unique materials that are created at the time of a historical event that serve as proof of historical facts. 

Primary sources:

  • provide firsthand evidence about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment.  
  • capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a historical event or time period.
  • can be used to determine how we know about historical events, or cultural trends. How do we know about a moment once it is passed?  By the evidence it leaves behind.
  • are used by historians, who, by applying critical thinking skills, develop an interpretation of a historical event.

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Laura Smith
Archives & Special Collections of the UConn Library