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History 502 -- Krivulskaya

Types of Primary Sources

These are some possible categories/formats of materials you might find. Of course, technologies available at the time of the event will determine some categories: Film newsreels are not going to be found if you are searching the Dark Ages! 


  • Newspapers
  • Memoir
  • Diary or diaries
  • Letters (note the term 'Correspondence' is the LoC subject heading subdivision) 
  • Maps
  • Personal narrative (this is a LoC subject heading subdivision)
  • Journal (not the scholarly publication, but more like a diary) 
  • Government reports and publications
  • Oral history transcriptions

Image or sound file

  • Photographs/slides/prints
  • Paintings or drawings (may be a high-resolution photograph) 
  • Newsreels 
  • Television shows
  • Newscasts
  • Music recordings and videos
  • Oral history recordings

Realia (objects) 

  • Artwork
  • Buildings
  • Toys and games 
  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Souvenirs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Ephemera (items created for short-term or one-time use such as flyers, brochures, ticket stubs)

The Web as a Primary Source

Social Media as Primary Source

In many cases, social media can be considered a primary source, but must be evaluated carefully.

What is the source?

  • An original post
  • A repost
  • Comments
  • Hashtag results
  • A profile

Is it a primary source?

  • Whose voice is this?
  • When was it created?

What is the source itself?

  • Is it a clip from original footage? One photo that is part of a larger collection? A soundbite from a video?
  • Can you get to the original source? Do you have permission to use it?

Document it.

  • Get screenshots, links, creator names and any other relevant information.

Evaluate it.

  • Is the source reliable?
  • What bias exists?


Source: Robin M. Katz, Evaluating Primary Sources Online: Social Media