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Primary vs. Secondary Sources  

Last Updated: Jul 2, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Finding Primary Sources in the Catalog

To find primary sources in the library catalog, try a keyword search using your topic and one of the following terms:

  • Diary, 
  • Memoir
  • Autobiography
  • Correspondence
  • Personal narrative
  • Speech
  • Oral history
  • Interview
  • Manuscript
  • Documents

    Primary Sources on the Internet

    You can use the same terms to search for primary sources on the internet as you do in the catalog.  You will often find them on museum or archives websites.  Here are a few large collections of primary sources (remember that not everything on each website is necessarily a primary source):

    • American Memory
      This collection for the Library of Congress includes thousands of sources ranging from the papers of George Washington to oral histories from former slaves.
    • U.S. National Archives Databases
      These databases includes millions of documents, images and films including information on the military and veterans, hurricanes, government spending, immigrants, and more.
    • MeL Michigana
      This collection of searchable databases includes materials from the Burton Historical Collection, the Ernie Harwell Collection, the Detroit Publishing Company and more.
    • Making of America
      This collection includes primary sources related to the Civil War, including the antebellum and reconstruction periods.
    • World War II Resources
      This collection includes primary sources reflecting various aspects of the war.
    • The Labyrinth
      Developed by Georgetown University, this website includes links to databases, texts and images from the medieval period.

    Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    A primary source is a docment, recording or physical object that conveys a first-hand account or direct evidence of an event or time period.  Primary sources also include publications (often journal articles) which report ther results of or data from original research. (Note: digital, microform or published copies of original materials can still be considered primary sources as long as their content is unchanged)



    Primary sources can include: 

    • Diaries, interviews, memoirs, oral histories, and letters from first-hand observers
    • Video and sound recordings and photographs
    • Government documents such as birth or marriage certificates, census records, and trial transcripts
    • Maps
    • Physical artifacts such as medals, clothing,and tapestries 
    • Survey research such as market surveys or opinion polls
    • Journal articles revealing the results of original research

    Secondary sources are produced after an even occurs by someone who was not present during the event.  They often cite primary sources and attempt to interpret, evaluate or analyze original sources.

       Examples of Secondary sources include:    

    • History textbooks
    • Encyclopedias
    • Commentaries, criticisms and analyses
    • Biographies and bibliographies


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