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HIST 121: American History To 1877: Primary and Secondary Sources

A PRIMARY SOURCE is a document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic. Primary sources are created contemporaneously with the topic they describe. Examples of primary sources include: original manuscripts, diaries, memoirs, letters, journals, photographs, drawings, interviews, government documents, public records, eyewitness accounts, and artifacts.

Summary of characteristics: 

  • Original, first-hand account of an event or time period
  • Usually written or made during or close to the event or time period
  • Original, creative writing or works of art
  • Factual, not interpretive

A SECONDARY SOURCE is a work that is one step removed from the original source. Secondary sources are created after the fact, and describe, summarize, analyze, or evaluate primary sources. Examples of secondary sources include: reviews, critical analyses, biographical studies, and historical studies.

Summary of characteristics:

  • Analyzes and interprets primary sources
  • Second-hand account of an historical event
  • Interprets creative work