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South Asian Studies: Primary Sources

An introductory guide to doing research in South Asian Studies at UCSD Library

Navigating this Research Guide and Other Tools to Find Primary Sources

Beneath this guide's "Primary Sources" tab are a number of drop-down tabs which identify databases, open access web resources, micromaterial sets, and other kinds of primary source material.  Tabs refer to different kinds of primary sources -- for example, statistical or data sources vs. images (including maps).  In some cases "types" of primary sources overlap -- for example, there is a tab for archives and a tab for government resources, but often archives are governmental entities and therefore contain government-generated sources.  Before you dive in, think strategically about the kind(s) of primary source(s) that will help you answer your research question(s) and select the appropriate tab.  Tabs/categories include:

  • Statistics/Data Sets/Public Opinion
  • Archives and Archival Information
  • Government Resources
  • Images and Maps
  • Digital Collections and Libraries

Please note also that "News Sources on Latin America" can be considered primary or secondary sources depending on the project and when and by whom they are/were written.

In addition to this guide, the following UCSD Library Guides may also be helpful:

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is a work created by a person or persons involved in an event, movement, battle, etc., or in newspapers, journals, or other media contemporaneous with the event.  Thus they are first-hand (or primary) accounts of the event and they provide first-hand evidence of what happened.  Another way to think of primary sources is as "original," "uninterpreted" sources which provide and original perspective on an event.  Primary sources can come in many formats -- they can be published or unpublished, a printed text or a text that has been digitized, an artifact, a recording, a painting or and image.  They can also be reprinted or issued for publication or made accessible to the public long after their creation.  For example, government documents may be classified for many years before these primary soruces can be used by researchers.  Oral histories may be recorded many years after the events about which the person is being interviewed took place.  Because of this, primary sources can be found in many sections of libraries and archives.  They are published in books that are found in circulating stacks.  They constitute articles in newpapers and manuscripts that are held in electronic databases and on microfilm.  They are manuscripts and legal treatises found in Special Collections.  They are digital images found on the internet and in digital library depositories.  Some examples of primary sources include autobiographies, diaries, e-mail, interviews, letters, minutes, news film footage, official records, photographs, raw research data, and speeches.  Newspapers can be considered primary sources if they offer first-hand accounts of events.   Often  they are considered secondary sources because they offer a second layer of interpretation of the subject matter.

*An additional note about distinguishing between primary and secondary sources: In the Humanities and Social Sciences, journal articles are generally considered secondary sources (because they are second-hand interpretations of events and subjects based on various primary sources).  However, it is important to understand that journal articles can contain primary data and in the sciences and even social sciences, journal articles often constitute primary sources.  This is one reason why it's best to work as closely as possible with your professor, TA, and subject specialist in the library.  We can all help you understand what constitutes a primary source for your topic.