TPPA protest Auckland 2015

Primary sources are original, first-hand, often unedited records of an event. They are created as people experience events and record what they saw, heard, and felt. Primary sources are characterised by their content, regardless of their format.

  • About primary sources

    A primary source can be a:

    • book, newspaper, document, manuscript, journal, letter, or diary
    • photograph, poster, video recording, or painting
    • speech, interview, or audio recording
    • website, email, tweet, or social media post
    • research data
    • physical artefact – like clothing, a tool, or a building.

    Writers, researchers, artists, historians and teachers frequently use primary sources because they offer an original eyewitness account of an event. By reading, viewing, or listening to them you can discover and understand past events and lives. Primary sources can overturn generalisations about historical events. They can become iconic (like the Treaty of Waitangi) and can define a period of history and our understanding of it.

    Published and unpublished sources

    Primary sources can be published or unpublished.

    Published primary sources, such as newspapers and websites, are intended to make the content available for the general public.

    Unpublished primary sources, such as diaries and emails, are often intended for a personal or private audience when they are created.

    Secondary sources

    A secondary source is an item developed after an event has occurred. Often it is created by someone who did not experience first-hand or take part in the event.

    A secondary source interprets and explains an event. However it can contain or draw on original primary sources such as photographs and eyewitness accounts. A secondary source could be an essay, journal article, book or pictorial recreation of an event.

  • About primary sources

    A primary source can be a:

    • book, newspaper, document, manuscript, journal, letter, or diary
    • photograph, poster, video recording, or painting
    • speech, interview, or audio recording
    • website, email, tweet, or social media post
    • research data
    • physical artefact – like clothing, a tool, or a building.

    Writers, researchers, artists, historians and teachers frequently use primary sources because they offer an original eyewitness account of an event. By reading, viewing, or listening to them you can discover and understand past events and lives. Primary sources can overturn generalisations about historical events. They can become iconic (like the Treaty of Waitangi) and can define a period of history and our understanding of it.

    Published and unpublished sources

    Primary sources can be published or unpublished.

    Published primary sources, such as newspapers and websites, are intended to make the content available for the general public.

    Unpublished primary sources, such as diaries and emails, are often intended for a personal or private audience when they are created.

    Secondary sources

    A secondary source is an item developed after an event has occurred. Often it is created by someone who did not experience first-hand or take part in the event.

    A secondary source interprets and explains an event. However it can contain or draw on original primary sources such as photographs and eyewitness accounts. A secondary source could be an essay, journal article, book or pictorial recreation of an event.

  • Using primary sources

    Primary sources are a powerful teaching and learning tool. They stimulate students' curiosity by providing them with an immediate and personal account of history. They are very useful for inquiry-based learning, but need to be used effectively, responsibly, and legally.

    Primary source materials provide a range of voices that help history come alive. However, as each example is created in a specific cultural, historical and personal context, they may reflect attitudes and values that are unacceptable today.

    Just because something is 'firsthand' from the past, doesn't mean it is 'the truth'
    Chicago Metro History Education Center

    Why use primary sources?

    Primary sources are a compelling part of teaching and learning.

    They provide students personal access to history, and:

    • allow for unfiltered access directly into history.
    • are what historians use to interpret the past.
    • give students a strong sense of the context of historical events from the people who experienced and documented an event.
    • have the power to become hugely important and iconic, as the Treaty of Waitangi has.

    They encourage critical thinking:

    • Students develop critical thinking and inquiry skills as they analyse multiple primary sources and perspectives of the same event.
    • Students engage in critical thinking and knowledge construction by starting with primary source material, pursuing a line of inquiry and reaching a deeper understanding of an event.
    • Primary source material highlights the historical and cultural biases when an event is recorded. For example, two eyewitness accounts of 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand may show vastly different perspectives of the same event. This then requires students to use critical thinking as they follow their inquiry.
    • Primary sources can challenge generalisations and clichés about historical events. They are also a useful tool for analysing our own contemporary values.

    Help inspire students when they are using primary sources by asking:

    • Who created this item?
    • When was it created, and why?
    • What does it tell you about an event?
    • What questions does it raise?
    • How does it inform current values and judgments?
    • Why is it historically important?
    • What type of primary source is it?

    These questions encourage a critical approach to primary sources and help reveal historical and contemporary perspectives and biases.

  • Using primary sources

    Primary sources are a powerful teaching and learning tool. They stimulate students' curiosity by providing them with an immediate and personal account of history. They are very useful for inquiry-based learning, but need to be used effectively, responsibly, and legally.

    Primary source materials provide a range of voices that help history come alive. However, as each example is created in a specific cultural, historical and personal context, they may reflect attitudes and values that are unacceptable today.

    Just because something is 'firsthand' from the past, doesn't mean it is 'the truth'
    Chicago Metro History Education Center

    Why use primary sources?

    Primary sources are a compelling part of teaching and learning.

    They provide students personal access to history, and:

    • allow for unfiltered access directly into history.
    • are what historians use to interpret the past.
    • give students a strong sense of the context of historical events from the people who experienced and documented an event.
    • have the power to become hugely important and iconic, as the Treaty of Waitangi has.

    They encourage critical thinking:

    • Students develop critical thinking and inquiry skills as they analyse multiple primary sources and perspectives of the same event.
    • Students engage in critical thinking and knowledge construction by starting with primary source material, pursuing a line of inquiry and reaching a deeper understanding of an event.
    • Primary source material highlights the historical and cultural biases when an event is recorded. For example, two eyewitness accounts of 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand may show vastly different perspectives of the same event. This then requires students to use critical thinking as they follow their inquiry.
    • Primary sources can challenge generalisations and clichés about historical events. They are also a useful tool for analysing our own contemporary values.

    Help inspire students when they are using primary sources by asking:

    • Who created this item?
    • When was it created, and why?
    • What does it tell you about an event?
    • What questions does it raise?
    • How does it inform current values and judgments?
    • Why is it historically important?
    • What type of primary source is it?

    These questions encourage a critical approach to primary sources and help reveal historical and contemporary perspectives and biases.

  • Primary source resources

    The National Library has a comprehensive collection of digitised primary sources. Our curated Topic Explorer content comes from a range of trusted national and international sources, and supports the delivery of the New Zealand curriculum.

    Topic Explorer

    Some New Zealand primary sources

    • Archives New Zealand — the official guardian of New Zealand’s public archives. Archives New Zealand gathers, stores, and protects an extremely wide range of material. Over 4 million items have been digitised.
    • DigitalNZ — millions of digitised items drawn from New Zealand cultural institutions like libraries, museums, art galleries, government departments, the media, and community groups.
    • EPIC — provides access to databases containing thousands of up-to-date international and New Zealand magazines (including full text articles) newspapers, biographies, and substantial reference works.
    • Index New Zealand (INNZ) — a searchable database that contains abstracts and descriptions of articles from about 1000 New Zealand periodicals and newspapers published from the 1950s to the present day.
    • Papers Past — a wealth of digitised historical New Zealand content covering newspapers, magazines and journals, letters and diaries, and parliamentary papers.

    International primary sources

    • Trove — brings together content from Australian libraries, museums, archives, repositories and other research and collecting organisations.
    • British Library — from virtual books to online exhibitions, the British Library has a huge range of digitised primary sources available. You can even create your own personalised gallery.
    • American Memory Library of Congress — a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States.
    • Digital Vaults — a creative and interactive way to explore American primary sources. Includes primary sources covering the abolition of slavery, World War II, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
    • FedFlicks — features films from the United States Government, from training films to history, from national parks to the U.S. Fire Academy and the postal inspectors. These films are available for reuse without any restrictions whatsoever.
    • Wellesley Research Guides — an excellent portal to a variety of digitised primary source collections from many cultural and educational institutions.
    • Yale Digital Content — provides a way to search across Yale's collections of art, natural history, books, and maps, as well as photos, audio, and video documenting people, places, and events.
  • Primary source resources

    The National Library has a comprehensive collection of digitised primary sources. Our curated Topic Explorer content comes from a range of trusted national and international sources, and supports the delivery of the New Zealand curriculum.

    Topic Explorer

    Some New Zealand primary sources

    • Archives New Zealand — the official guardian of New Zealand’s public archives. Archives New Zealand gathers, stores, and protects an extremely wide range of material. Over 4 million items have been digitised.
    • DigitalNZ — millions of digitised items drawn from New Zealand cultural institutions like libraries, museums, art galleries, government departments, the media, and community groups.
    • EPIC — provides access to databases containing thousands of up-to-date international and New Zealand magazines (including full text articles) newspapers, biographies, and substantial reference works.
    • Index New Zealand (INNZ) — a searchable database that contains abstracts and descriptions of articles from about 1000 New Zealand periodicals and newspapers published from the 1950s to the present day.
    • Papers Past — a wealth of digitised historical New Zealand content covering newspapers, magazines and journals, letters and diaries, and parliamentary papers.

    International primary sources

    • Trove — brings together content from Australian libraries, museums, archives, repositories and other research and collecting organisations.
    • British Library — from virtual books to online exhibitions, the British Library has a huge range of digitised primary sources available. You can even create your own personalised gallery.
    • American Memory Library of Congress — a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States.
    • Digital Vaults — a creative and interactive way to explore American primary sources. Includes primary sources covering the abolition of slavery, World War II, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
    • FedFlicks — features films from the United States Government, from training films to history, from national parks to the U.S. Fire Academy and the postal inspectors. These films are available for reuse without any restrictions whatsoever.
    • Wellesley Research Guides — an excellent portal to a variety of digitised primary source collections from many cultural and educational institutions.
    • Yale Digital Content — provides a way to search across Yale's collections of art, natural history, books, and maps, as well as photos, audio, and video documenting people, places, and events.
  • Online tools to use with primary sources

    The following are a range of online tools that can be used in teaching and learning when using digitised primary sources:

    • Digital NZ — includes the ability to create sets, which lets you quickly create, describe, and share your own galleries of primary sources.
    • Document analysis worksheets — designed and developed by the education staff of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. You may find these worksheets useful as you introduce students to various documents. Some refer to American contexts, so will need to be modified for use with New Zealand content and contexts.
    • historypin — a place where people share photos and stories, telling the histories of their local communities.
    • Living Heritage — a place to tell your own school story using primary sources.
    • Topic Explorer — a tool to discover quality, curated primary sources on a range of New Zealand curriculum related topics.
    • Pinterest — a place to gather, catalogue, and share primary sources and activities
    • Tiki-Toki — a place to create a timeline with images and text.
    • Zotero — a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organise, cite, and share your primary sources.
  • Online tools to use with primary sources

    The following are a range of online tools that can be used in teaching and learning when using digitised primary sources:

    • Digital NZ — includes the ability to create sets, which lets you quickly create, describe, and share your own galleries of primary sources.
    • Document analysis worksheets — designed and developed by the education staff of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. You may find these worksheets useful as you introduce students to various documents. Some refer to American contexts, so will need to be modified for use with New Zealand content and contexts.
    • historypin — a place where people share photos and stories, telling the histories of their local communities.
    • Living Heritage — a place to tell your own school story using primary sources.
    • Topic Explorer — a tool to discover quality, curated primary sources on a range of New Zealand curriculum related topics.
    • Pinterest — a place to gather, catalogue, and share primary sources and activities
    • Tiki-Toki — a place to create a timeline with images and text.
    • Zotero — a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organise, cite, and share your primary sources.
  • Responsible use  — copyright and attribution

    When you use primary sources, be aware of their copyright requirements and usage restrictions. These are usually made clear in the information provided with each item.

    Check if your school has guidelines for responsible use of other people's work. If you're unsure about how to use these resources responsibly, ask your librarian or refer to:

    Copyright guidelines for schools — as set out by the Ministry of Education.

    Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand — a non-profit organisation that helps people share their copyright works for reuse by others. They provide information about how to share, remix, reuse – legally.

    National Library copyright and privacy — statements on the use of National Library web content and information

  • Responsible use  — copyright and attribution

    When you use primary sources, be aware of their copyright requirements and usage restrictions. These are usually made clear in the information provided with each item.

    Check if your school has guidelines for responsible use of other people's work. If you're unsure about how to use these resources responsibly, ask your librarian or refer to:

    Copyright guidelines for schools — as set out by the Ministry of Education.

    Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand — a non-profit organisation that helps people share their copyright works for reuse by others. They provide information about how to share, remix, reuse – legally.

    National Library copyright and privacy — statements on the use of National Library web content and information