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Primary Source Research in International Relations (SAIS)

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic or event, from people with a direct connection to it. They include texts of laws and other documents, news reports from the time of an event, speeches, diaries, letters, maps, etc.

Sometimes it’s difficult to access primary sources. For example, the may only be in print, housed in an archive. Secondary sources, which are one step removed from primary sources, quote or otherwise use primary sources. They can cover the same topic, but add a layer of interpretation and analysis. In some cases, using a secondary source that excerpts a primary source may be your only option.

Historical Research Starting Points

Journal Articles:


See Research Methods Primary Sources to educate yourself about approaches to working with source material and historical evidence.