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.

  • 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
  • Reports of scientific experiments

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources are written after an event has occurred, sometimes many years later.  These sources summarize or analyze the information from primary sources.  Secondary source examples 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.