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HIST 076: Women's Work in Premodern China (SC): Primary Sources 101

History 076: Women's Work in Premodern China (Chen) - Fall 2013

More Information on Primary Sources

What are primary sources? Where can you find them?

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are firsthand accounts of events or conditions during a particular period, often recorded contemporaneously by participants or observers.

Written records are most likely to be available in library collections, either in manuscript form (in archives) or in published format, such as the collected and published letters of a colonial traveler.

Written documents:

  • Diaries and journals
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Speeches and sermons
  • Manuscripts
  • Notes (and other written materials describing experienced or observed events)
  • Autobiographies and memoirs describing experienced or observed events (in hindsight)
  • Newspaper articles
  • Maps
  • Mueseum catalogs for art exhibitions

Multimedia sources:

  • Photographs, films, videos
  • News broadcasts and transcripts
  • Audio recordings documenting contemporary events
  • Music, television shows, advertisements

Physical artifacts:

  • Art objects
  • Costumes
  • Buildings, monuments, etc.


Where can I find primary sources?  Who provides access to sources?

Although you can sometimes find digitized primary sources online, you can also find published collections of primary documents (sometimes translated). For larger projects, scholars usually visit collections and archives to view the actual documents first-hand. 

If you're struggling to find sources, take a step back and ask yourself: who would care about preserving the kinds of sources I need?  Who would bother collecting them?  What sort of library, archive, museum (etc.) might care about this kind of document?