Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

A handwritten letter Newspapers Photograph of Civil War veterans, Washington, DC, 1865 A diary

 

Primary sources are records that provide first-hand testimony or evidence of an event, action, topic, or time period. Primary sources are usually created by individuals who directly experience an event or topic, and record their experience through photographs, videos, memoirs, correspondence, oral histories, or autobiographies.

Common Examples of PRIMARY Sources:
Letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches, interviews, photographs, notes, subject files, oral histories, autobiographies, travelogues, pamphlets, newspapers, newsletters, brochures, government documents including hearings, reports and statistical data, military service records, manuscripts, archival materials, artifacts, architectural plans, artistic works, works of fiction, music scores, and sound recordings.

Photo credits:
Letter, clipart.com
20072307 Days go by (Newspapers), Lollyman, photo available on Flickr.com
Washington, D.C. Company D 10th U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps, James Gardner, photographer, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-cwpb-04379 DLC
writing in bed (Diary), louveciennes, photo available on Flickr.com.

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources put primary sources in context. They summarize, interpret, analyze, or comment on information found in primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written by individuals who did not experience firsthand the events about which they are writing.

Common Examples of SECONDARY Sources:
Biographies, monographs, journal articles, dissertations, theses, essays and encyclopedia articles.

Primary vs Secondary Sources: A Comparison

 Discipline

Primary Source

Secondary Source

History

Slave diary

Book about the underground railroad

Art

Original artwork created by an artist

Article critiquing the piece of art

Literature

Original poem written by a poet

Essay on a particular genre of poetry

Political Science

Treaty between two governments

Essay on Native American land rights in the US

Science or Social Sciences

Report of an original experiment

Review of several studies on the same topic

Theatre

Videotape of a performance

Biography of a playwright

Table courtesy http://www.bgsu.edu/colleges/library/assistance/page41012.html