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Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are materials that provide first-hand documentation or knowledge, usually of people, places, events or time periods. Primary sources enable the researcher to trace a research subject to its origin, potentially supporting new interpretations or revealing previously undocumented knowledge of that subject. Just a few examples of primary sources include diaries, oral histories, fossils, DNA, correspondence, speeches, interviews, court cases, or scientific studies. Secondary sources build upon or extrapolate information derived from primary sources, and the distinction between the two can be quite fluid depending on one's area of study. In most contexts, however, a primary source is understood to be a point of origin, or a piece of raw data, for a research subject.

Featured resource

Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing (Online access)

Research assistance

Anna Culbertson
Special Collections & University Archives Librarian
Office: Library Addition 4410A 
Phone: (619) 594-6892
aculbertson AT sdsu DOT edu
Robert Ray
Special Collections Division Head
Office: Library Addition 4410G 
Phone: (619) 594-4303
robert DOT ray AT sdsu DOT edu
Research Desk
General Research Assistance
Location: 1st Floor Library Addition 
Phone: (619) 594-6728
eref AT sdsu DOT edu
Special Collections and University Archives
Special Collections Research Assistance
Location: 4th Floor Library Addition 
Phone: (619) 594-6791
scref AT sdsu DOT edu


  1. Common Terms in Special Collections
  2. Finding Archives and Manuscripts in Special Collections at SDSU
  3. Finding Books in Special Collections at SDSU
  4. Finding Primary Sources in the Library Catalog
  5. Questions to Ask of A Primary Source
  6. Tips for Successful Research Using Special Collections Materials