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History Resource Guide: Primary Sources

This guide provides resources for the study of history and historians.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

When evaluating the quality of the information you are using, it is useful to identify if you are using a primary or secondary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.

Source Type Examples
Primary
A primary source is a first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. This original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.
  • First person account of an event
  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Original artwork
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights
Secondary
A secondary source is one step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information that is conveyed in the primary source.
  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography
Tertiary
A tertiary source is further removed from primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.
  • A tertiary source is further removed from primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source. Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalog

Need to read about it? Here are some good definitions