Skip to main content
Library Research Guides

Primary Sources On Asian Americans

Guide for American Culture 314 --Introduction to Asian American Studies

Types of Primary Sources

Primary sources can be:

  • government records
  • photographs
  • speeches
  • maps
  • firsthand accounts (such as diaries or memoirs)
  • drawings
  • laws
  • letters
  • blog posts
  • works of art
  • raw data (such as from polls or censuses)
  • posters
  • works of fiction
  • interviews
  • newspaper articles
  • and more!

What Is a Primary Source?

A primary source is generally:

  • a document that was created in the time period that you are studying, or by a person who lived during that time period and wrote about it later
  • firsthand knowledge about the event, time period, or person that you are researching.

A secondary source, on the other hand:

  • makes use of primary sources in the explanation or exploration of a prior time period
  • is distanced from this time period and uses primary sources as evidence to back up assertions.
Example: if you are researching Benazir Bhutto, a biography about her would be a secondary source (that makes use of primary sources like interviews and newspaper articles about her), while her autobiography would be a primary source.

Your Context Is Important

Whether a source is primary or secondary depends on the context of your research question. Sometimes what we might think of as a secondary source becomes a primary source, depending on how you are using it.

Example: a 19th century biography of a 17th century historical figure is a secondary source if you want to learn more about that person, but it is a primary source if you are looking for 19th century opinions on the figure.
Example: a French nationalist political party website is a secondary (and politically biased) source if you want to learn about current government happenings in France, but it is a primary source for looking at how this particular political party expresses itself and its views.

Why Are Primary Sources Valuable?

Primary sources connect your research and writing directly to your topic: you can use them to make your own interpretations and come to your own conclusions.

Using primary sources, you can interact more directly with what you are researching, and form assertions based on primary evidence.