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BIS 300: Interdisciplinary Inquiry (Krabill): Primary sources and artifacts

Examples of Primary Sources

(You may find sources not listed here and that's ok!)

  • Diaries, letters, autobiographies
  • Interviews, speeches, oral histories, personal narratives
  • Works of art, photographs, music, or literature
  • Scientific data and reports
  • Statistical and survey data
  • Archeological artifacts
  • Legal cases, hearings, laws
  • Official government documents and reports

Primary or Secondary?

A primary source is something you examine for clues about whatever you are investigating.  Suppose my question is: did the mid-century spread of domestic refrigeration in the United States change diet and patterns of domestic work?  I might look up old recipes, lists of what grocery stores sold, letters, or even photographs of people eating.  Those would all be primary sources: artifacts produced in connection with the thing I am studying.

A secondary source, by contrast, is something written by someone else who asked the same question that you are asking, or a related question.  One of the first things that I will do if I have a question is see whether someone else had the same question and tried to find the answer. So rather than plunge immediately into collections of recipes, I might see if someone has already written about the history of diet, cuisine, and domestic labor in the United States.  Those would all be secondary sources.  Think of secondary sources as co-investigators, friendly helpers.  Even if you don’t agree with their answers, you can learn from their work.


Types of Primary Sources


Check out these helpful tips on analyzing images created by the head of visual resources at the UWB/CC library.