What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are any sources that were created in the era under discussion.

For example, if we are discussing George Washington, anything at all created during Washington’s lifetime would be primary sources:

  • a letter
  • an inventory
  • a scrap of paper with a list scrawled on it
  • a flag
  • a shirt
  • a comb
  • a building

Anything created outside this period would be a secondary or tertiary source. For example, most of the books about Washington or the Revolution at the local bookstore are secondary sources. Secondary sources use, refer to, and quote primary sources.

Textbooks are tertiary sources. They tend to rely more on secondary sources.

Primary: created during the period under study

Secondary: written after the fact, using mostly primary sources

Tertiary: written after the fact, using mostly secondary sources


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History of Applied Science & Technology Copyright © 2017 by Danielle Skjelver, David Arnold, Hans Peter Broedel, Sharon Bailey Glasco, Bonnie Kim, Sheryl Dahm Broedel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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