Primary Sources

These are simply first-hand accounts or original records of an event. Primary sources may include newspaper articles, diaries, letters, interviews, maps, government documents, oral histories, videos, illustrations, photographs, and more. A primary source may also be the result(s) of original research, including quantitative or qualitative data.

Secondary Sources

These are resources that were created “after the fact” by persons who were not present at the actual event–they are simply reporting on information they have received “second hand.” Secondary sources usually offer an analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. For example, most scholarly textbooks and reference sources like encyclopedias would be considered secondary sources.

The Confusion

Whether or not a resource is a primary or a secondary source may also depend on what your topic is and how you are using that resource. For example, a newspaper article written in 1941 about the 2nd World War would be a primary source, but a newspaper article written in 2008 about WWII would be a secondary source. Books that are secondary sources may also contain primary sources within them; for example, excerpts from interviews, copies of government treaties or legislation, or research results. Try to find the original source (looking in the book’s footnotes and/or bibliography will help!) and you can use them as primary sources for your own research topic.
Below are some links to help you find primary sources, but you may also want to check out the Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA’s) Guide to Primary Sources on the web.

Online Sources of Primary Documents

19th Century Index info

AAS Historical Periodicals Collection info

African American Newspapers 1827-1998 info

American Memory Project info

American Presidency Project info

Avalon Project info

Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South info

British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries info

Cummins Photo Collection: Hamilton, Ohio info

Early American Imprints: The Digital Evans info

Early English Books Online info

Eighteenth Century Collections Online info

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History info

Historic Documents info

Internet History Sourcebooks info

King Center, Archive of Martin Luther King, Jr. info

Making of America info

National Archives and Records Administration info

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories info

North American Indian Thought and Culture info

Ohio Memory Project info

Sabin Americana, 1500-1926 info

Social and Cultural History: Letters and Diaries Online info