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Answered By: Jeanne Hoover
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2014     Views: 696

A primary source is an eyewitness account or the first record of an event or experiment.  In the humanities, a primary source was usually written or created during the time period under study. In the sciences, a primary source is recorded during an experiment and published in an original research article.

Secondary sources were written after the event occurred or experiment completed. Secondary sources provide analysis, interpretation, explanation, description and/or evaluation of primary sources.  A secondary source in the humanities might be a literary criticism.  In the sciences, a secondary source might be a review article which analyzes multiple original research articles.

Here are some examples of each:

Primary Sources:

  • diaries, letters and emails
  • speeches, testimony and interviews
  • some newspaper articles
  • news film or video
  • autobiographies
  • statistics and raw data sets
  • original scientific research
  • original research article
  • legislative hearings and bills
  • pictures and maps
  • poetry, drama, novels, music and art
  • artifacts such as jewelry, tombstones, furniture and clothing

Secondary Sources:

  • textbooks
  • encyclopedias
  • literature reviews
  • many magazine articles
  • Review journal articles
  • literary criticism of Hamlet
  • reviews of books, movies, plays, etc.
  • a book written in 1995 about the causes of the French Revolution

The Reference section in Joyner Library contains a wide selection of primary source materials in print, including:

  • American Decades Primary Sources: Ref E 169.1 A47 1977
  • Documents of American History: Ref E 173 C66 1973
  • Landmark Documents on the U.S. Congress: Ref JK 1041 L36 1999
  • Twentieth-Century America: A Primary Source Collection from the Associated Press: Ref E 740.5 T84 1995

Some good online sources for locating primary source materials include:

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