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Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center Digital Resources

Guide to digitial collections and resources in Special Collections

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are documents (or other kinds of materials) that were created in the past that can be used by researchers in the present to gain insight into a specific time period. Primary sources provide ideas and evidence about events in the past. Scholars use the evidence found in primary sources to draw conclusions and construct narratives about the past.

Types of primary sources: Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, photographs, letters, oral history interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records, meeting minutes, and can include objects such as pottery, furniture, clothing, and buildings.

Primary source documents exist as such only after the passing of time; they were not necessarily created to support historical analyses. They are typically the day-to-day documents that support the functioning of a business or organization or an individual. Over time, these documents remain and can lend insight into specific time periods, organizations' and individuals' histories. But it is important to note that this is their secondary, not original function.

A secondary source is a published work that presents arguments and conclusions about an event in the past based on primary source (or archival) research. Types of secondary sources include: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias.

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Monday through Friday: 9:00 am to 4:45pm. 

When classes at the University of Chicago are in session, we are open until 5:45pm on Tuesday and Wednesday. We are not open Saturday or Sunday.

The Special Collections Research Center is located on the first floor of Regenstein Library: 1100 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637

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