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Primary sources for humanities: Welcome

A guide to primary sources for humanities at Monash University Library


What are primary sources?    

A primary source is a document or object that was written or created at the time under investigation. It provides a first hand account or personal viewpoint of an event or time period.

Examples of a primary source are an:

  • eyewitness account
  • diary entry
  • newspaper article
  • interview

Artworks, photographs, music, music scores, poems, government records and artefacts can also be primary sources.

Secondary sources describe, analyse or evaluate these primary sources.

Video courtesy of Jessica O'Brien 


'North boundry stone near Silver Spring, Maryland' asia
'Prince Philip during a walkabout of Bankstown, 1980'  'The National Savings Picture Map of the Continent of Europe.'
The Penitential and other Psalms - caption: 'Portrait of Henry VIII' Image of an historic tape recording device text

All images taken from the flickr pages of DCPL CommonsThe British LibraryRoyal Australian Historical AssociationFylkesarkivet i Sogn og FjordaneInternet Archive Book ImagesThe British LibraryNew York Public LibraryJalal gerald Aro, OSUCommons and cropped.; excluding; Fac-simile des monumens colories de L'Egypte: d'apres le tableau de C.L.F. Panckoucke (1825). Retrieved from World Digital Library. and Imperialism is War! 1966.Briskin, V. (1966 - ? )Retrieved from Bridgeman Education database.

Comparison of primary and secondary sources

Subject Primary Source Secondary Source

original artwork

document describing the artwork


indigenous artefact

letter from an eyewitness                 

book describing indigenous artefacts

book or article that references the letter

Literature A Shakespeare sonnet Book on Shakespeare that references sonnets
Archaeology Egyptian mummy book or article about the process of mumification                  
Social Sciences                      original research study review of several studies on the same topic
Theatre videotape of a performance                        biography of a playwright