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AMST/HIST 294B: The Art of Public Explanation

Includes tools and resources to support the class AMST/HIST 294B: The Art of Public Explanation

Primary and Secondary Sources - What's the difference?

Before you can find primary sources, you have to know what they are. This 4 minute video explains the difference.

To recap ... 

  • A primary source proves direct, first-hand evidence of an event, an object, or a person. Primary sources provide facts about an event or time period. 
  • A secondary source is an analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of an event or time period. They interpret or analyze the primary source material.  
  • Here are some examples of primary and secondary sources are:

Primary and Secondary Sources - Examples for History

Primary Secondary
Autobiography, letters, memoir, diary written by an individual A biography about an individual
Transcript of a presidential speech Newspaper commentary about a presidential speech
Text of a court decision Book that analyzes the court decision
A description a protest march by a participant or someone who witnessed it Journal article that analyzes events that led up to the march and the impact of the event 
An official government record and publication A blog post that gives an analysis or commentary about a government publication

About Searching for Primary Sources

Locating primary sources for historical research is an iterative process. It often involves consulting the secondary sources, tracking down primary sources used by others, going back to the literature as new names, events, and concepts emerge, then back to the tracking down potential primary documents.

For historians, some of the most fruitful searching happens when looking for books in OneSearch. When searching, limit to Books and to Stetson, and keep the following in mind.

Search for authors - Individuals, organizations, and government branches/agencies can all be authors, and can be searched in OneSearch. Results might include autobiographies, published correspondence and diaries, interviews, government reports, hearings, and studies, periodicals and bulletins, and archival collections.

Know your subject headings - It helps to get to know how subject headings are used to describe your topic. For example, the subject headings Cuban Americans and Cubans--United States have slightly different meanings, and both could be useful for studying Americans of Cuban origin or Cubans in the United States, respectively.

Databases to Use

Historical newspaper articles can be a good place to find primary sources. You can pick a date to start with and/or search for an event, a name, a hearing,  or an organization. 

Digital archival collections are another option. Here are some places to start:

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