A primary source can be anything that gives direct evidence of a topic or event.
In contrast, a secondary source may use primary evidence to analyze, interpret, explain, or comment on that topic or event.
Importantly, whether a source is considered primary or secondary depends on the way you engage with it. For example:
Often, when we think of primary sources, we think of things created for the explicit purpose of documenting a fact or event for posterity. These can include:
However, primary sources also include documents and materials created in the regular course of our lives and work that can now be used as direct evidence of the who, what, where, when, and why of the things we did. These unexpected sources of evidence can include:
Image credits: Material from Emma Fairhurst papers and George Nace papers, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries