Primary sources are original documents dating from the period being studied. Some primary sources tell a personal story, for example, eyewitness accounts written at the time of an event
or written shortly afterwards. Others are official documents such as legislation and regulations.
The list of primary sources is almost endless and includes:
Primary sources are like jigsaw pieces: You need to join them together to see the picture. However, using primary sources isn't always straightforward:
See Finding primary sources for more information on how to find and use physical and online primary sources.at the University of Birmingham and beyond.
See Digitised collections for a list of online primary sources.
See the companion guide Special collections and archives. (Opens a different guide.)
You may have come across the terms primary, secondary and even tertiary sources. Depending on what they are and how they are being used, sources can sometimes be in more than one category.
Primary Sources are original documents dating from the period being studied.
Secondary sources include books and articles that analyse and interpret a subject often by using primary sources e.g. textbooks, histories, literary criticism and interpretation, analyses and commentaries.
Tertiary Sources provide a definition, introduction or overview of a subject. They include dictionaries, encyclopedias almanacs, fact books and bibliographies
For example a text book about painting written during the nineteenth century could be: