Original materials or records on a topic or event that provide direct evidence or first-hand testimony. These records either by particpants or observers of events reflect a point of view at a particular time and allows the historian to study unfiltered evidence and critically develop an interpretation of the past
Time: Can be sources created at the time of the event (e.g., letters and newspaper articles) or after the event (e.g., memoirs, autobiographies or oral history interviews).
Type: May be published or unpublished. Archives and manuscripts are unique, unpublished sources.
Use: How the researcher uses the source generally determines whether it is a primary source or not.
What: Varies by discipline, but personal correspondence and diaries or papers are considered to be primary sources by all disciplines.
For the historian there are a wide range of sources for research. The list below are examples of some of those primary sources
Distinguish primary sources from secondary and tertiary sources
Secondary sources are works that interpret the primary data. Examples would include a book examinging women leaders in the Civil Rights movement, or a journal article about the role of tobacco in Louisiana pre Civil War economy, Tertiary sources, on the other hand, are even farther removed from the primary source. They are works that use secondary sources Encyclopedias are examples of tertiary sources.
First Steps: After doing some preliminary background information, think about what sources would serve your research need.
The examples on this You Tube video tutorial from the Hartness Librar illustrates the difference between primary and secondary sources. Note how the video demonstrates on how primary and secondary sources vary with the research topic.