"What are Primary and Secondary Sources"
What are Primary and Secondary Sources? In short: • Primary sources convey first-hand experience of the event or time period you’re studying. • Secondary sources convey the experiences of others, or “second-hand” information. Primary Source Vs. Secondary Source Humanities Based on first-hand, personal experience Based on second-hand information Author experienced or witnessed event Author did NOT witness event Usually written at same time or shortly Usually written somewhat later or much after the event occurred later after the event occurred (memoirs can be written much later, but by a first-hand participant, so still a primary source) Generally does not include compilation Interprets primary source(s), often many and analysis—but see note on context1 together; draws conclusions or criticizes1 Sciences Original scientific research; experiment or Compilation, discussion, analysis, or study conducted by author2 criticism of scientific research by others2 Factual rather than interpretive Analyzes and interprets 1 Context is essential: what is primary depends on what you are studying. A 1975 biography about Abraham Lincoln is a secondary source if you are studying Lincoln’s life; but it could be a primary source if you were studying how people wrote historical biographies in the 1970s. 2 In natural and social sciences, primary source generally refers to original research, but note the similarity: scientists describe their first-hand experience with an experiment or study. Focus on content and context, not format: an original letter which is scanned and posted on the Internet or reprinted in a modern book is still a primary source. Primary sources may be published or unpublished, or may not even be written material. Common primary sources include: • Records of a government, business, or organization • Letters, diaries, memoirs, interviews, speeches • Sketches and other art, creative writing and poetry • Videotapes, sound recordings, maps, photos • Contemporaneous accounts in newspapers and magazines • Artifacts and relics, like clothing, buildings, and coins Common secondary sources might include your school textbooks; modern books and articles (scholarly or popular) that analyze or reflect on a historical event or time period. EDC / 2008