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History: Primary & Secondary Sources

What is a Primary Source

Primary sources include documents or artifacts created by a witness to or participant in an event.  They can be firsthand testimony or evidence created during the time period that you are studying.

Primary sources may include diaries, letters, interviews, oral histories, photographs, newspaper articles, government documents, poems, novels, plays, and music.  The collection and analysis of primary sources is central to historical research.

Note about primary sources: While there are many digital primary resources available, it is very important to remember that the majority of primary sources have not yet been digitized.

  • The Books link in the navigation bar at the left provides information for locating primary sources via UW Libraries Search
  • Under the Primary & Secondary Sources link in the navigation bar your find several options for locating these types of resources. 

Examples of primary sources

What is a Secondary Source

Secondary sources analyze a scholarly question and often use primary sources as evidence.

Secondary sources include books and articles about a topic.  They may include lists of sources, i.e. bibliographies, that may lead you to other primary or secondary sources.

Databases help you identify articles in scholarly journals or books on a particular topic.

  • The Articles link in the navigation bar at the left provides links to databases that will lead you to secondary sources (primarily articles).
  • The Books link in the navigation bar at the left provides information for locating secondary sources via UW Libraries Search.

Examples of secondary sources