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Ancient-Classical Art and Archaeology

Resources and research tips for topics on ancient through classical arts

What are Primary Sources?

What are primary sources? Why should I use them?

Primary sources provide first-hand accounts or documents and records of an event. They can include diaries, journals, sketchbooks, letters, account books, and oral histories. Depending on their age, they may also include newspaper articles and journal articles (for example, a historic review of an exhibition in 1913 would present you with a critic's firsthand perspective of an event.)

Secondary sources provide analysis or interpretation of events or happenings documented in primary sources. These include academic articles,  books, documentaries or films, and essays.

Primary sources give you a direct look at historic conditions, discussions, and ideas. For example: if you are researching the history of patronage in Baroque Italy, you may refer to an artists' account books, letters, and journals to understand their relationship with a patron.

Where do I find primary sources?

Primary sources may be reproduced in books, digitized and put into online collections, or exist in their original state in archives and special collections. See below for a list of digital primary source collections in ancient art.

In Mason Libraries, add these terms to your search to find primary sources:

diaries; correspondences; letters; interviews; narratives; quotations; descriptions and travel

Primary Sources and Digitized Texts