Primary Source Document

Definitions and Examples of Primary Sources

Definitions of primary sources defined by various professors and historians as well as a selection of descriptions of their use to write scholarly historical works.

 



"Primary sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or as witnesses. They provide the evidence on which historians rely in order to describe and interpret the past. Some primary sources are written documents, such as letters, diaries, newspaper and magazine articls; speeches; autobiographies; treatises; census data; marriage, birth, and death registers."

Mary Lynn Rampolla - A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 6th Ed., (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004), p. 6.

 



"A primary source is a document, image, or artifact that provides evidence about the past.  It is an original document created contemporaneously with the event under discussion.  A direct quote from such a document is classified as a primary source."

Robert C. Williams - The Historians' Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History, (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe,‚Äč 2007)pp. 6 and 56.

 



"History is, among other things, an argument based on sources and evidence that support that argument. Historians are not free to tell a story or make up an argument without supporting evidence. The evidence of the sources is the raw material of history and the historian's most valuable tool. Historians should not argue or narrate beyond what the evidence demonstrates is the truth."

Robert C. Williams - The Historians' Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History, (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2007)p. 56.

 



"A historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself. The very best evidence, of course, is the event itself, and then authentic remains of the event, and then direct observations, etc. We shall call this the rule of immediacy."

David Hackett Fischer - Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought, (New York: Harper and Row, 1970)p. 62.

 



"A historian must not merely get the facts right. He must get the right facts right. From this a simple rule of relevance may be deduced: historical evidence must be a direct answer to the question asked and not to some other question."

David Hackett Fischer - Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought, (New York: Harper and Row, 1970)p. 62.