Primary Sources for History Research
What Are Primary and Secondary Sources?
Generally speaking, a primary source is material written or created at the time of an event as a kind of firsthand report. Material written much later, as historical analysis, is a "secondary" source.
In the field of history, primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a past event or time period. A primary source reflects the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources may include diaries, correspondence, speeches, interviews, records of organizations, photographs, opinion polls, census data, etc. Books, magazine and journal articles, and newspaper articles written at the time of the historical event can also be considered primary sources.
Secondary sources are written by historians. These scholars gather available primary source material related to a historical event or person, analyze the material, and produce their own historical interpretation of the event/person based on the material. Historians are careful to cite, through footnotes, bibliographies, and lists of relevant archival collections, the data (primary source material) upon which their own account is based.
Finding Primary Sources
The Finding Primary Sources page can give you steps in finding primary sources, as well as information on how to find the best primary sources for those researching historical subjects, specifically.
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