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Course: History 1 Mexico: Finding primary sources

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are a great place to start your research project. They are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time of the event you are studying. They are different from secondary sources, which are accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without first hand experience. 

Primary sources are created:

  • by someone who was present at or involved in the event
  • at the time of the event OR later in a memoir

A primary source is not necessarily your main source!

Why use primary sources?

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

Coming into close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal, documents and objects can provides a very real sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era.

Finding primary sources

We have curated many primary sources for you from the two books below and you can find them in the Canvas site for your class. They cover topics including Culture, Politics, Race and Rights, Religion, Environment, and Women.

Analyzing your primary source - example

Working with primary sources

Rampolla on primary sources

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Newspapers
  • Speeches
  • Audio recordings
  • Films or videos
  • Photographs
  • Memoirs
  • Government documents
  • Maps
  • Artifacts, such as objects used at the time.

Citing primary sources

  • If your source is one of many collected together in a book, use the 'Anthology/Collection' citation - you will cite both your primary source and the book it is published in.
  • If you use a primary source from a database, such as GVRL, don't forget that you need to cite the database too - do this by clicking on the 'Database' tab when you create your citation.
  • If you are using a website, such as Library of Congress, you will cite both the specific webpage you are using and the website.