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THIST 430 Introduction to Public History - Nicoletta: Primary & Secondary Sources:
Definitions & Examples

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.

  • Find Books provides information for locating primary sources via the UW Libraries Catalog

  • Primary Sources Online provides links to selected websites that include primary source materials

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.

  • Find Articles provides links to databases that will lead you to secondary sources (primarily articles)

  • Find Books provides information for locating secondary sources via the UW Libraries Catalog

Examples of secondary sources