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Researching with Archival & Special Collections Primary Source Materials

What is a primary source?

The meaning and use of primary sources can differ depending on your field or area of study. In this guide, when we talk about primary sources we are referring to materials in any form or format (sources), created by a participant or witness at the time being studied (primary). These primary sources serve as original evidence of a moment in time, event, idea, innovation, and so on.

  • Watch the brief (00:34) video below to help remember our short and memorable definition: primary source = first-hand account

Maybe your instructor has assigned you to include primary sources in a paper or project. Maybe you're interested in historical research and are looking to access original materials. Maybe you're just pursuing a personal interest. Where do you begin? You're in the right place!

This guide will introduce you to archival and primary source materials held at Alden Library's Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections, and will provide strategies and tips for finding and using archival and special collections primary source materials in your research, teaching, and learning.