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Historical Primary Sources: Home

Where to Start

DEFINITIONS:

Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs).  They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer.  Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period

A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon.  It is generally at least one step removed from the event and is often based on primary sources.  Examples include:  scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, and textbooks.

GENRES OF PRIMARY SOURCES:

Think about what types of primary sources might have been produced that would be relevant to your topic; think also about which persons or organizations might have produced materials. Some possible types of sources:

Books Photographs and images
Magazine and newspaper articles Cartoons and advertisements
Diaries and journals Movies, videos, DVDs
Memoirs and autobiographies Audio recordings
Interviews Public opinion polls
Letters Fiction
Speeches Research data and statistics
Documents produced by organizations Documents produced by government agencies, including congressional hearings and census records

Finding Background Information

Gather the information you have about your topic and consider what you still need to know before you start researching.  You can use this information as you search for primary sources:

  • Dates
  • Places
  • Names of persons involved
  • Names of organizations, government agencies, societies, etc.

Subject Guide

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