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What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original sources created at the time of an historical event or shortly thereafter by people who experienced it or felt its effects. These are eyewitness accounts, or at least very close. Primary sources serve as the raw materials historians use to interpret and analyze the past.

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diaries and journals
  • Letters
  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Plays, novels, poetry, or films written during the time period
  • Speeches or interviews
  • Maps
  • Court cases
  • Statistics, polls, and census data


What is a Secondary Source?

A secondary source is interpretation or analysis based on primary sources. 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • Biographies
  • Textbooks
  • Scholarly articles
  • Encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Documentaries
  • Newspaper and magazine articles


Primary vs. Secondary Sources from Hartness Library

This video from the Hartness Library describes the differences between primary and secondary sources, and provides examples of each.