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Primary Sources: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Source

Primary sources are original materials and first hand accounts of an event. They are typically created at the time the event took place.  Examples:

  • Letters, diaries, autobiographies, oral history, manuscripts
  • Speeches, personal narratives, interviews
  • Newspaper articles written at the time of the event; photographs
  • Government documents, hearings, reports, statistical data, trial transcripts
  • Original research (research studies published in academic journals)
  • Works of art, literature, music
  • Artifacts, tools, clothing, furniture, coins

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

This video from the Hartness Library defines and identifies some of the differences between primary and secondary sources.

Finding Books

Search tips for locating primary sources in the library catalog:

  • Try to combine topic, keyword, or a person's name with any of the following: autobiography, personal narratives, letters, correspondence, diaries, memoirs or sources.
  • Search by the author to find materials someone has written.
  • Advanced Search: try a word or phrase representing your topic on one line. On the second line select "subject" from the drop-down menu and type: sources

Tip: Sources is the subject sub-heading used by WorldCat and the library catalog to describe primary sources. For example: 

Advanced search

The list of results will include primary sources.


Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are documents written after an event has occurred, providing secondhand accounts of that event, person, or topic. These sources interpret or analyze events. They are usually written by individuals who are at least one step removed from the event. Examples:

  • Scholarly or popular books
  • Reference books
  • Textbooks
  • News Reports
  • Encyclopedias
  • Journal Articles

‚ÄčWhile primary sources provide first-hand accounts, secondary sources offer different perspectives and conclusions of those accounts. Secondary sources can also provide background information and analysis of an event or work, and these sources can also give historical perspective based on other events that have taken place since the original event or work.