What are primary sources
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. 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Published and unpublished sources
Primary sources can be published or unpublished.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Unpublished primary sources, such as diaries and emails, are often intended for a personal or private audience when they are created.
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.