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A Primary Source is an original record such as a document, image, or artifact that provides a first-hand account or direct evidence of a historical event or topic. In other words, original material created or witnessed at the time of the event in question or under study.
In contrast, a Secondary Source is one created by someone who did not witness or experience first-hand the events in question. Often these provide analysis or interpretation of events and may use or quote from primary sources to support their ideas.
Searching Tips and Tricks for Primary Sources
- Add the word "source" to a subject keyword search to find primary sources.
- Other subject keywords that help indicate primary sources:
- You may also try these search terms:
- Oral History
- Look at the bibliography / references of secondary sources on your chosen topic - they generally show what primary sources they used and where they found them.
Evaluating Primary Sources
Examples of Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources
Primary source examples include:
- Letters / Correspondence
- Literary Works (collections, poetry, folklore, mythology, etc.)
- Articles or essays (historical)
- Manuscript facsimiles (digitized copies of the original, access-copies of fragile documents, etc.)
- Oral Histories / Interviews (includes transcriptions of)
- Government documents
- Official records (birth, marriage, death, census, etc.)
- Translations or excerpts of original documents
Secondary source examples include:
- Books or articles that interpret or provide analysis of events (histories, biographies, literary criticisms, etc.)
- Reviews of other works (film reviews, book reviews, etc.)
- Documentary films (generally presenting an interpretation of events, individuals, or ideas)
- Reviews of laws and legislations (political analyses and commentaries)
Books on Using Primary Sources
Analyzing and Writing with Primary Sources by
Publication Date: 2015-08-01
Engage students with intriguing and authentic primary sources! This classroom resource provides detailed instructions and pedagogical tactics on teaching with primary sources. Students will learn to critically analyze various kinds of primary sources while developing their close reading and comprehensions skills and responding to text-dependent questions. This standards-based manual is tailored for specific grade spans. Chapters are divided by the type of primary source including Paintings, Photographs, and Prints; Official Documents; Personal Documents; Posters, Signs, and Advertisements; Political Cartoons and Comic Strips; Maps; Artifacts; and Oral Histories, Interviews, Audio, and Video Recordings.
Historical Research by
Publication Date: 2002-03-25
This is the first practical guide to cover the various stages of a history research project, from the selection of the topic and the organization and interpretation of source material, through to the completion of the written-up record.Whether it is for a dissertation, thesis article or, indeed, full-length book, Historical Research deals with the purpose of research, and the implications, limitations and benefits of different research methods, as well as the effective presentation of the finished result.
Going to the Sources by
Publication Date: 2017-04-27
It's been almost 30 years since the first edition of Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing was first published. Newly revised and updated, the sixth edition of this bestselling guide helps students at all levels meet the challenge of writing their first (or their first "real") research paper. Presenting various schools of thought, this useful tool explores the dynamic, nature, and professional history of research papers, and shows readers how to identify, find, and evaluate both primary and secondary sources for their own writing assignments. This new edition addresses the shifting nature of historical study over the last twenty years. Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing includes: A new section analyzing attempts by authors of historical works to identify and cultivate the appropriate public for their writings, from scholars appealing to a small circle of fellow specialists, to popular authors seeking mass readership A handy style guide for creating footnotes, endnotes, bibliographical entries, as well as a list of commonly used abbreviations Advanced Placement high school and undergraduate college students taking history courses at every level will benefit from the engaging, thoughtful, and down-to-earth advice within this hands-on guide.