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History: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

P v S

Primary Sources - original, first-hand observations or accounts of events or experiments. May include speeches, interviews, diaries, newspaper articles, photographs, video, and archival materials.

Secondary Sources - most often interpretations or analyses of primary source information

Primary Resources

Primary resources are considered authoritative representations of a time period, event, object, person, or activity. They are most often created at the time an event or time period is occurring, though may be created later. Primary resources can be descriptive, they can report on events or discoveries, or show a first-hand account of the author’s experience. Primary resources are original pieces of research or evidence.      


Some examples of Primary Resources

  • archives and manuscript material
  • photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, films
  • journals, letters and diaries
  • speeches
  • scrapbooks
  • published books, newspapers and magazine clippings published at the time
  • government publications
  • oral histories
  • records of organizations
  • autobiographies and memoirs
  • printed ephemera
  • artifacts, e.g. clothing, costumes, furniture
  • research data, e.g. public opinion polls
  • Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, Instagram pages

Secondary Resources

Secondary resources are typically created after an event has occurred or time period has passed. These resources can be scholarly or non-academic, and can be persuasive, interpretive, analytical, or evaluative in nature. Often, a secondary source attempts to evaluate or describe a primary resource from the author’s point of view.


Some examples of Secondary Resources

  • journal articles that comment on or analyse research
  • textbooks
  • dictionaries and encyclopaedias
  • books that interpret, analyse
  • political commentary
  • biographies
  • dissertations
  • newspaper editorial/opinion pieces
  • criticism of literature, art works or music


Some resources can be considered both primary AND secondary!

Accessing Primary Resources

Primary Source Keywords

Finding primary sources in the library catalog requires you add specific keywords (or limiters) to your "main topic" (or subject keywords) search. Those keywords include:

  • sources
  • interviews
  • diar* (this keyword using * will retrieve results for both diary and diaries)
  • autobiograph* (this keyword using * will retrieve results for autobiography and autobiographies)
  • correspondence
  • personal narratives
  • pamphlets
  • speeches
  • documents
  • archives
  • maps

For example:

Gallipoli AND "personal narratives"

"French revolution" AND diar*

Ellen G White AND interviews OR correspondence