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This Is Auburn Auburn University Libraries LibGuides

Auburn High School IB Guide

A guide for high school students visiting AUL, about finding sources and getting started with research.

What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are materials produced at the time of the historical event you are studying. They provide insight into historical events because they are made by the people who have lived through them. Primary sources can be textual (books, newspapers, journals, letters, and other written material) or nontextual (pictures, art, recordings, and physical objects).  

Sometimes finding primary sources involves creative thinking about what can serve as evidence about the past. Art, images, and objects can be good options too, not just documents!

Evaluating Primary Sources

In evaluating primary sources, consider several points about each source. Think about its...

  • Context. When was the source created? Where was it made? What sort of events and influences were going on at the point of its creation that might surface as subtext?
  • Authority. Who created the source? What makes them a credible person or institution to comment on the issue? Who published the source?
  • Intent. Why was the source created? Is it designed to objectively report on facts, or does it have some sort of purpose or argument it is trying to advance?

Where To Find Primary Sources

Many primary sources, especially about events further in the past, may be located in special collections or archives. Some may exist only in print form, requiring travel to view and access. However, there are also many online, digitized collections of primary source material that can be drawn upon for historical research. Here are some useful online collections that do not require you to log in with university credentials: