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Primary Sources

Contact Information - Judy Bastin

Judy Bastin
Research & Instruction Librarian

Contact Information - Ruth Harries

Ruth Harries
Public Services & Instruction Librarian

Guides & Profiles

Primary and Secondary Definitions

Primary Sources:  A primary source is an original object or document created at the time the historical events occurred.  It is the raw material or first-hand information.  Primary sources include historical and legal documents (i.e. letters, memoirs, diaries, newspapers, speeches, interviews), photographs, eyewitness accounts, results of an experiment, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, and art objects.  In the natural and social sciences, the results of an experiment or study are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences, so those articles and papers that present the original results are considered primary sources.

Secondary Sources:  A secondary source is something written about a primary source.  Secondary sources include comments on, interpretations of, or discussions about the original material.  You can think of secondary sources as second-hand information.   If I tell you something, I am the primary source.   If you tell someone else what I told you, you are the second source.   Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that evaluate or criticize someone else's original research.

Primary vs Secondary

Primary Sources include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history 
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece 

Secondary Sources include: 

  • PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
  • A history textbook 
  • A book about the effects of WWI 
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