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Primary Sources

What is a primary source? Primary sources are materials directly related to a topic by time or participation. These materials include letters, speeches, diaries, newspaper articles from the time, oral history interviews, documents, photographs, artifacts, or anything else that provides firsthand accounts about a person or event. 

Some materials might be considered primary sources for one topic but not for another. For example, a newspaper article about D-Day (which was June 6, 1944) written in June 1944 was likely written by a participant or eyewitness and would be a primary source; an article about D-Day written in June 2001 probably was not written by an eyewitness or participant and would not be a primary source.

Teaching History.org, home of the National History Education Clearinghouse. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2016, from http://teachinghistory.org/best-practices/using-primary-sources/19079


Evaluating Primary Sources

Evaluation of the sources is essential to scholarly research.

  • Who was the author and who was the audience of the primary source?
  • What was the purpose of the document or motive for writing it?
  • Does the writer have an obvious bias?
  • When was this document written, and what was the effect of the document on history?
  • What affect did the document have on the your view of this topic or event?
  • Compare the primary source information with secondary source information.

Guides: Primary sources: Intro. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2016, from http://guides.is.uwa.edu.au/primary_sources

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, analyse, interpret or draw conclusions from a primary source. Secondary sources are created after the studied event/work took place or the studied work was created. They can therefore take into consideration other events and place a primary source in its historical context. Secondary sources are not evidence but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.

The term secondary source refers to books, sections of edited books, journal articles, encyclopaedia and dictionary entries, newspaper and magazine reports and so on.


Evaluating Secondary Sources

Consider the following when looking for reliable secondary sources:

  • Who is the author? Are they a scholar in the field?
  • Was the book/ journal published by a scholarly publisher?
  • What is the purpose of the text or motive for writing it?
  • Does the writer have an obvious bias?
  • Does the book/ article have an extensive bibliography?
  • What are the primary sources referred to by the author?
  • What secondary sources are used by the author?
  • Does the text have citations enabling you to check the author's sources.

Guides: Primary sources: Intro. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2016, from http://guides.is.uwa.edu.au/c.php?g=324908

Created and developed by Luciana Cavallaro 2017