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HIST 151 & HIST 152 (Mulligan): 2. Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary and Secondary Sources

Hartness Library. (2017, Jan 25). Primary vs secondary sources. (3 min. 18 sec.)
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What are Primary Sources?

The American Library Association states that "primary sources are the evidence of history, original records or objects created by participants or observers at the time historical events occurred or even well after events, as in memoirs and oral histories." 

Examples of primary sources include (but are not limited to): 

  • Artifacts and objects
  • Photographs
  • Art (paintings, prints, cartoons)
  • Maps
  • Unpublished documents such as letters, memos, minutes and other papers
  • Diaries, memoirs and autobiographies
  • Oral histories
  • Newspapers, magazines, etc. 
  • Recordings (e.g. speeches, news broadcasts, radio programs, interviews, etc.)
  • Bills, Acts, and other laws passed
  • Business/institutional records or reports

What are Secondary Sources? 

Secondary sources are written some time after an event by people who were not present at the time, and did not directly witness the events they are describing. Secondary sources are one step removed from what's being described and often use primary sources to analyze or interpret history. 

Examples of secondary sources include (but are not limited to): 

  • Books and textbooks
  • Magazine and journal articles
  • Websites - universities, museums, government archives


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