HOW TO... Distinguish between primary and Secondary Sources
A primary source is a firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation.
Primary sources are written or created during the time period being studied, or by a person directly
involved in the event. The nature and value of the sources cannot be determined without reference to
the topic and question it is meant to answer. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event
or time period. Some types of primary sources are:
Original Documents Creative Works Artifacts
Diaries Novels Jewelry
Speeches Music Tools
Letters Films Pottery
Minutes Visual Art Clothing
Interviews Poetry Buildings
Research Data Performing Arts Furniture
News Film Footage
Diary of Ann Frank - experience of Jews in World War II; The Declaration of Independence - United
States History; Arrowheads and pottery - Native American history
A Secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. Secondary sources are one step
removed from the primary sources. Some types of secondary sources are:
Textbooks, Journal Articles, Histories, Criticism, Commentaries, Encyclopedias and Biographies.
Thomas Jefferson: A Life - a biography of Thomas Jefferson; The Encyclopedia of Education - brief
treatments of educational topic; Introduction to Psychology - Psychology textbook
Primary Sources on the Web
These are some examples of sites where you can find primary sources.
The Library of Congress's National Digital Library contains more than 40 collections, which feature
historical photos, maps, documents, letters, speeches, recordings, videos, prints, and more.
Documenting the American South
This electronic text archive from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill contains primary
source slavery narratives and first-person narratives of the South as well as a digitized library of
southern literature. http://metalab.unc.edu/docsouth/
National Museum of American Art
This museum site offers online exhibitions of American art. http://nmaa-ryder.si.edu/