Primary sources are firsthand accounts of an event -- or original records created during that time period -- which do not contain any outside interpretation. Primary sources can include letters, diaries, or interviews; historical news reportage; original works of fiction, art, or music; testimony or speeches.
When and Why You Should Use Primary Sources:
Remember: Primary sources are the building blocks of historical research and should provide the foundation of your argument and interpretation, whereas secondary sources should inform and supplement the primary sources. Use your primary sources as evidence for answering your research question and write based on those sources, rather than “plugging them in” after the fact to bolster your argument. In short, primary sources should drive the paper, not the other way around.
Newspapers can contain accounts of what was occurring when specific literary works were published. They are also useful for their relative immediacy, recording history as it happened.
Ephemera is useful because its sheer variety (posters, maps, advertisements, trade cards, programs, etc.) provides a glimpse into a historical period's cultural, economic, and social customs & traditions.
Still not sure what constitutes ephemera? Take a look at these examples...
Manuscripts are useful because they can provide insight into the production of works as well as document the lives of significant literary figures.
The term "manuscript" literally means "written by hand" and encompasses a broad array of documents and records of numerous formats and types, including letters & correspondence, diaries & journals, memoirs & autobiographies, papers relating to published and unpublished literary works, as well as handwritten notes.