Primary sources

A source that gives first-hand information about a period in history may be an oral account, a photograph, an aerial Historical map of Bernwood Forestphotograph, a film, a poster, a historic document, a map, an artefact, a monument, a newspaper etc... that dates from the time you are studying.


Primary sources, though useful to get the first-hand account, have to be assessed for validity before they are used. You have to think about when it was written compared to the date of the event it discusses; in what kind of format it was first produced, which may influence content; the identity and beliefs of the author, if known; and why it was written, what was the purpose.



Saxon brooches from StoneEvery piece of writing is written with a motive, whether it is to keep a simple list of events or whether it is to put a certain spin on events. It is always good to try to get another source dealing with the same event. When quoting a primary source it is usual to put it in “quotation marks” and to refer to the source, either as a footnote or in the text.


Click for more advice on writing and presenting a report.


The largest collection of primary sources is at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.


Other primary sources may be held at the National Archives.


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