Loyola University Chicago Libraries

History: Primary Sources

Methods for Finding a Primary Source

Primary Source Defined

A primary source is firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic, an event, a person's life, original work of literature, or historical fact.  It consists of original material that has not been filtered through interpretation, condensation, evaluation or any type of commentary.  Primary sources are usually the first formal appearance of results and offer an immediate picture of the topic under investigation.

These characteristics are in contrast with those of secondary sources.  A secondary source is information about primary, or original information, which usually has been modified, selected, or rearranged after the fact, for a specific purpose or audience.  It can be a description, an interpretation, an analysis, a commentary and an evaluation of an historical event or phenomenon, or the original writing of an author.

Primary Source Analysis

Observe:  What about the source draws attention?  What can be learned simply by looking at the source?  What about the source is unexpected?  What about it is unexplained? 

Reflect:  Where might the source have come from?  Why might it have been created?  What historical event does it depict?  Who was the intended audience?  Why is it important? 

Question:  What more must be learned in order to fully understand the source and its historical context?

An interactive analysis tool can be used to guide this process.

Subject Librarian

Jane Currie's picture
Jane Currie
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