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History 14F: What's Your History: Primary and Secondary Sources

This guide was prepared to lead you to specific items for your What's Your History? class.

Primary Sources Defined

When you are researching history, you will make extensive use of primary sources.  For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it refers to original material.  In general it comprises those materials that provide first-hand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are researching. They have been created by witnesses to events as they occurred.  They include items such as:

  • diaries
  • letters,
  • birth certificates
  • census data
  • marriage certificates
  • military records
  • passenger lists
  • photographs
  • creative works,
  • financial records
  • memos
  • newspaper articles
  • (to name just a few types).

You will be using both primary and secondary sources in your research.

Primary Sources --- Websites

Secondary Sources Defined

Secondary sources of information are derived from primary sources. They are written after the fact by a party who was not witness to the original event. A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may contain pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources. They may include:

  • Reference books such as encyclopedias,dictionaries, handbooks, etc
  • •Articles that review other sources
  • Textbooks
  • Biographies

Primary Source Articles - Search Our Databases

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