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History Resources: Primary and Secondary Sources

A basic guide to locating information about History in the TMCC Library.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources -- Prijnceton University Library

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history 
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece 

What is a secondary source?
A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of seconday sources include:

  • PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
  • A history textbook 
  • A book about the effects of WWI 

Primary and Secondary Sources -- University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Although not a video, this useful tutorial clearly explains the difference between primary and secondary sources.  It even has a short quiz at the end to test your understanding!

Primary and Secondary Sources produced by IRIS

How to Determine if Your Sources are Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary (Penn Libraries, University of Pennsylvania)