Primary sources are things that give first-hand or direct information about the past. For the historian, primary sources are the 'nuts and bolts' of their trade, from which all secondary texts are produced. Primary materials include

The value of primary sources

Using primary sources

A number of issues have to be considered when using primary sources:

And then?

Sometimes, it is possible to put a document into its historical context without too much difficulty. Events such as the trial of Lord Oxford are easy to track down. When writers talk about the effects of the poor law or political affairs then secondary materials will give further information. To track down individuals, one has to be a detective with a lot of patience.

The internet has brought the opportunity for people to share their knowledge: many people have added to the information available from the "Letters from the Past" for example. However, electronic media of all kinds — internet, e-mail, document attachments — do give cause for concern to an historian. What will be left, in another hundred years' time, for historians to use as sources?

Last modified 19 December 2002