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Tools to assist you in all of your history classes.


Whether conducting research in history, social sciences, humanities arts, or natural sciences, the ability to distinguish between primary and secondary sources is essential. Depending on your assignment you may be instructed to use either primary or secondary sources. However, most research uses a combination of both.  The resources listed in this LibGuide include both types of sources.  This page provides information to help you identify the type of resource you are using.

Primary Sources

Primary sources provide first hand accounts of events. They can be either published or unpublished, and can be found in many formats, such as manuscripts, books, microfilm, photographs, video and sound recordings.  Some primary sources may be available in more than one format, for example, a collection of manuscript letters may have been published in book form, and may have also been digitized and made available on the Internet. 

Examples of Primary Sources:

  • Newspaper reports, by reporters who witnessed an event or who quote people who did
  • Speeches, diaries, letters and interviews 
  • Original research
  • Datasets, survey data, such as census or economic statistics
  • Government documents such as committee reports, legislative hearings and texts of laws
  • Original works of art, poems, or literature
  • Performances 
  • Photographs, video, or audio that capture an event

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, interpret, synthesize or evaluate primary sources.. These sources are one or more steps removed from an event. Secondary sources may include pictures, quotes or graphics from primary sources. Secondary sources are usually in the form of published works such as journal articles or books, but may include radio or television documentaries, or conference proceedings.

Examples of Secondary Sources:

  • Textbooks
  • Articles critiquing or reviewing a performance, piece of art, or literature
  • Journal/magazine articles which interpret or review previous research
  • Literature reviews
  • Biographies
  • Articles or books about a topic or historical event written by people not directly involved
  • Documentaries, though they often include photos or audio-visual recordings from primary sources