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THIST 290: A World History of Food -- Sundermann: Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

In history when we say "primary sources" we are referring to materials that were created at the time of the historical event or era that you are researching. These are evidence of what actually occurred and how people reacted in the moment. They can be firsthand testimony or evidence created during the time period you are studying, such as:

  • Newspaper articles, speeches, interviews, legal proceedings, or radio recordings/transcripts
  • Diaries, letters, oral histories, or correspondence
  • Photographs, video, or audio recordings

Primary sources may also be materials that are created at the time that you, with your historian lens, are analyzing. These are very broad and could include:

  • Government documents, textbooks, maps, or reports
  • Art, poetry, literature, plays, or film from the time
  • Advertisements, brochures, or ephemera


Where do I find primary sources?

Primary sources are commonly found in library's special collections, archives, museums, or in databases that have digital scans of these items. Sometimes there are books that contain or cite primary sources, such as letters or transcripts from a speech. There are also some websites that will digitize and share primary sources on a particular topic. Checking the library's research guides is a great place to start!

Primary Source Databases