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Course: History 1, Africa (2024): Finding a primary source

What is a primary source?

Primary sources 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, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand 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!

For more information on primary sources and their uses refer to the History 1 Research Canvas Module 3: Working with Primary Sources page.

Finding primary sources

REMEMBER: Be open and expansive in your thinking of what primary source to choose. It doesn't help to get fixated on a single idea.

Here are some ideas:

  • The library has several books of primary sources on Africa. Look in the Primary Sources collection (near the Library front desk) for books on Africa (960-969).
  • Nations Online has many links to government websites and organizations within different countries, though you may need to use Google Translate. Be aware that not all the links will be to primary sources. 
  • Are you interested in a specific social issue like health, education or children's rights? Look for non-governmental agencies that might work on these issues like the World Health Organization or UNICEF. Brainstorm what kinds of agencies might have information on your topic.
  • Are you looking at an aspect of your country's culture? Perhaps there is a company or association that governs a sport or an art form.
  • You can use a newspaper article if it is an opinion piece, an interview or if the writer was actually at an event. It is not a primary source if the writer was not present at the events it describes. Look for news sources on the Contemporary Issues page.
  • Not everything on these sites are primary sources, so check with your teacher or one of the librarians.

Examples of primary sources

  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • diaries
  • newspapers
  • speeches
  • memoirs
  • government documents
  • photographs
  • audio recordings
  • videos or films
  • artifacts such as paintings or buildings

Working with primary sources

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.

Citing your primary source

Use Noodletools to cite all your sources. Create a new project and use Advanced Chicago/Turabian style.

If your source is one of many collected together in a book:

  • Use the 'Anthology/Collection' citation, under the Nonperiodicals heading.
  • Once you have clicked on that, choose the type of source you're citing, from the next drop down menu.
  • You will cite both the source itself and the book it's in.