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Cluster 20: Interracial Dynamics in American Culture and Society

What Is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are "first-hand" information, sources as close as possible to the origin of the information or idea under study. Primary sources are contrasted with secondary sources, works that provide analysis, commentary, or criticism on the primary source.

  • In art, literature, and cultural studies, primary sources include original creative works, such as paintings, architectural plans, music, poems, novels, movies, television shows, and even advertisements.
  • In historical studies, primary sources include written works, recordings, or other sources of information from people who were participants or direct witnesses to the events in question. Examples of commonly used historical primary sources include government documents, memoirs, personal correspondence, oral histories, and contemporary newspaper accounts.
  • In the sciences, primary sources are usually articles or data resulting directly from experiments, fieldwork, or clinical trials.

Note that the "primacy" of a source can be relative. In cases where original records were lost or a live performance was never recorded, a review or commentary from a third party may be the most primary source available.

 

For more information on primary sources and to learn how they differ from secondary sources, look over our handout or play our interactive Wheel of Sources game.

Primary Resources in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Though many UCLA research guides link to primary resources, this list highlights those guides that have significant sections devoted to primary sources. Click on the guide with a relevant topic, and navigate to the section labeled "primary sources" for resources.

Documents, Statistics, Newspapers, Images, Video

The following types of sources are generally considered to be primary sources.

Oral History Portals

More Places to Look for Primary Sources

UCLA Ethnic Studies Center Libraries