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*Primary Sources: A Guide

A guide to identifying and locating primary sources for conducting research in history.

Consider Sound & Image

Beyond the printed word, societies often use sound and images to tell stories, share information, and create meaning.

When literacy rates and access to the printed word were limited, consider what people would have seen and heard. Some audio and visual "documents" were eventually written down and are available to researchers. These might include religious sermons, theatrical performances, songs and music, as well as oral story telling traditions.

Art forms may also provide clues to the way people thought and communicated ideas in the past. Consider the stories told by the stained glass windows of a medieval cathedral, a mural in a government building, or the public monument at a major urban intersection, to name a few.

In modern societies, technologies such as radio, television, and motion pictures joined more traditional forms of audio and visual culture.


Maps are a special class of visual artifact, representing not just geographic space, but often the strategic, commercial, cultural, or imperial interests of its creators, to name a few. As described by the Newberry Library, "a map is not a direct image of the physical world, but one constructed by the mapmaker’s knowledge, the conventions of mapmaking, cultural and social influences, and the intended audiences of the final product.  In this way, maps suggest the ways their creators’ and users’ understood the nature of their society, the course of time, and their place within a landscape."

Visual Arts

For additional resources, visit the Art History research guide.



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