A primary source is a document or record that allows the researcher to get as close as possible to the historical event or period being studied. (Definition courtesy of UC-Berkeley Library) It is usually a product of the historical era or environment that you are researching. For example, if you are studying the Mexican Revolution, articles published in magazines or newspapers at that time, diaries, personal accounts, and government records would all be considered primary sources. Records of organizations and movements and speeches are other examples of primary sources. Literary texts and manuscripts, music sound recordings, photographs, film and video can also serve as primary sources for certain topics.
Primary sources may be published (government documents, newspapers, journals and magazines) or unpublished (manuscripts, letters etc). Both published and unpublished sources may be in their original form, or they might be reproduced in books, or as microfilm or microfiche, or in digital versions. Many digitized materials are available online and reprinted books and microfilm/fiche may be available via Interlibrary loan. Fragile, rare, and original copies of sources generally do not circulate beyond the libraries or archives where they are held.
Finding Primary Sources - Library of Congress Subject Headings (MIT Libraries)