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History: Find Primary Resources

Sources for your research in history

Why use Primary Resources

  • “My professor says I need to use primary sources.”
  • They are as close as we can get to the event, person, phenomenon, or other subject of your research.
  • Primary sources do not speak for themselves. This is your chance to express your own opinions and interpretations based on the evidence you have assembled.
  • Because primary sources are usually a small piece of a larger picture, you are encouraged to look for additional evidence through research and secondary sources in order to put the primary source in context.

Research is more meaningful when it is founded on authentic evidence, empirical data, and original documents, rather than on others’ interpretations, explanations, and opinions

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources  include first-hand information from a person who witnessed or participated in an event. For subjects in history, it's FROM the time, not ABOUT the time. A primary source can also be scientific data, statistics, or an official transcript of a government proceeding. Actually, a primary source can be almost anything.

Primary sources include first-hand information from a person who witnessed or participated in an event. They are original materials, created at the time of an event or soon thereafter. Primary sources can can also be scientific data, statistics, or an official transcript of a government proceeding; they can be almost anything.  Primary sources are found in a variety of formats, such as original documents in archives and libraries; materials reprinted in published sources, such as collections of letters, diaries, autobiographies; microforms; digitized on the web; recordings.

For subjects in history, it’s From the time, not About the time.

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 is often based on primary sources.  Examples include:  scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, and textbooks.

Secondary sources are those in which the author is reporting the observations of others and may be many times removed from the actual event.

These are sources in which the author is reporting the observations of others and might be many times removed from the actual event or written after the fact, with the advantage of hindsight. Secondary sources describe, interpret, analyze, evaluate, explain, or comment on something. Typical examples of secondary sources are: biographies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, handbooks and manuals, histories about a topic, works of criticism and interpretation, textbooks, monographs, bibliographies, and directories.

You want to use secondary sources for background information and to find simple facts. Reading secondary sources is often the quickest and simplest way to find out what is already known about the subject you are studying.

Primary Sources at VMI