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History: United States

Resources, including databases, e-books, and Websites on topics in United States History

Primary and Secondary Sources

There is no better way to study the past than through consultation of original, primary source documents produced during the time period or event being studied. Scholars and historians agree that the study of primary sources is the core of any serious historical research.

What are primary and secondary sources? 

A primary source is original material, such as a first-hand account of an event by a participant or an eyewitness.  Official government records and publications are also primary sources.  Secondary sources analyze, evaluate, or interpret primary source material.  Some examples of primary and secondary sources are:

Primary Source

Secondary Source

Autobiography, memoirs, diaries, letters, etc., written by an individual                  

Book about an individual (biography)

Transcript of a Presidential speech                                         

Newspaper commentary on a Presidential speech

Text of a court decision                                  

Book that analyzes or explains court decisions on a particular topic

Congressional Record                                    

Journal article summarizing recent events in Congress

Description of the 9/11 terrorist attack by someone who witnessed or survived it

Book on national security since the 9/11 attack

How to Find primary sources in the library catalog

Search the library catalog to find primary source material: do a keyword search for your topic and add one of the words below as a second keyword: 

  • correspondence

  • diaries

  • interviews

  • manuscripts

  • narratives

  • sources

  • speeches

  • letters

  • documents

Have a question? Ask a librarian! Email Call or text 386-747-9028.