Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

You can still access the UC Berkeley Library’s services and resources during the closure. Here’s how.

Introduction to Primary Source Research: What is a primary source?

Basic information on doing research using primary sources

Definitions

Primary Source

A primary source is an eyewitness account of an event or data obtained through original statistical or scientific research. 

What are some examples of primary sources?

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Photographs
  • Official records (government reports, transcripts, court records, death certificates, etc.)
  • Contemporary news reports (newspapers, telecasts, radio addresses, etc.)
  • Maps
  • Interviews
  • Statistics
  • Polls and Public Opinion Data
  • Laws, statutes, hearings

 

Secondary Source

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may include pictures of primary sources or quotes from them. Some types of secondary sources include: journal/magazine articles, textbooks, commentaries, and encyclopedias.

 

Newspapers

Newspapers may be either primary or secondary. Most articles in newspapers are secondary, but reporters may be considered as witnesses to an event.  Any topic on the media coverage of an event or phenomenon would treat newspapers as a primary source. 

 

Examples of primary sources by discipline

Examples of primary sources by discipline

 

Discipline

Primary Source

Secondary Source

Art

sketch book

conference proceedings on French Impressionism

History

Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

book on the anti-slavery struggle

Journalism

interview

biography of publisher Katharine Meyer Graham

Law

legislative hearing

law review article on anti-terrorism legislation

Literature

novel

literary criticism on The Name of the Rose

Music

score of an opera

biography of composer Georges Bizet

Political Science

public opinion poll

newspaper article on campaign finance reform

Rhetoric

speech

editorial comment on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech

Sociology

voter registry

Ph.D. dissertation on Hispanic voting patterns

 

Source: https://libraries.indiana.edu/identifying-primary-and-secondary-sources

 

Carleton Watkins Letter

Letter from Carleton Watkins to George Davidson dated July 14, 1879

http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0016t8s0f

Head of Bancroft Public Services

Susan McElrath's picture
Susan McElrath
Contact:
380-D Bancroft Library
(510) 642-1595
Website