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Harry Ransom Center Research

About Primary Source Research

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are any record produced by human or organizational activity. They provide scholars and researchers with a closer look into what the lives of people and the function of different organizations might have been like within their own time periods and social and cultural atmosphere.

Because they are a record of history, primary sources provide ample opportunity for original research. They differ from secondary sources, which usually represent someone else's research on a particular subject.

The Harry Ransom Center collections primarily reflect the records, paper, and artwork of literary figures. The Center has an especially strong collection in 20th- and 21st-century authors and publishers. 

Why Do Primary Sources Matter?

Primary sources allow us to study historical and cultural moments from their beginning. When scholars analyze how a primary source was created, by whom, and for what reason, they're able to make research-based claims about those materials. 

It's important to remember that existing primary sources only represent a fraction of materials created by any person or organization. Many more materials exist beyond what has been preserved. Sometimes, what is missing in a collection of primary sources is just as important to research as what has been saved.

Contact Us

For general information or help with reference and research, call (512) 471-9119 or email
A member of our Reference and Research staff will get back to you at the earliest opportunity. 

For other inquiries, you may find our staff directory here.

Primary Source Literacy

Instructors: To learn more about using primary sources as part of critical research, visit the Society of American Archivist's standards for primary source literacy.

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