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Finding Primary Sources @ Pitt: Primary Sources by Subject

Learn to distinguish between primary and secondary sources; learn strategies for finding primary sources.

Primary Sources by Subject

Each field of study has its own world of sources, conventions, and vocabularies.  The list that follows is not all inclusive, but will help you to identify primary sources in your own discipline.  In general, personal correspondence and diaries or journals are considered to be primary sources by all disciplines. If you are unsure that a source is considered primary by your discipline, ask your professor or a reference librarian for assistance.

  • Archaeology/Anthropology: an artifact or object that provides evidence of a society, such as clothing, farming tools, household items, and buildings.

  • Arts and Literature: the original artistic or literary work that forms the basis for a criticism or review, such as feature films, musical compositions, sound recordings, paintings, novels, plays, and poems.

  • Biology: research or lab notes, genetic evidence, plant specimens, technical reports, and other reports of original research or discoveries (e.g., conference papers and proceedings, dissertations, scholarly articles).

  • Business: market research or surveys, anything that documents a corporation's activities, such as annual reports, meeting minutes, legal documents, marketing materials, and financial records.

  • Communication: websites, blogs, broadcast recordings and transcripts, advertisements and commercials, public opinion polls, and magazines (e.g., Rolling Stone).

  • Engineering: design notes, patents, conference proceedings, technical reports, and field surveys.

  • Geography: field notes, census data, maps, satellite images, and aerial photographs.

  • History: government documents (e.g., treaty, birth certificate), photographs, store account books, artifacts (such as those listed for archaelogy/anthropology), maps, legal and financial documents, and census records.

  • Law: court decisions, trial trancripts, and law codes.