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History: Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

Primary and Secondary Examples


George, Mary W. The Elements of Library Research. Princeton University Press, 2008.

What are Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources?

Uploaded to YouTube by on Jul 29, 2011.

Often students come in to the Library with assignments to do research in primary source materials, but find that they're not quite sure what a primary source is. This video provides a brief discussion of primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources are documents, images or artifacts that provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a historical topic under research investigation. Primary sources are original documents created or experienced contemporaneously with the event being researched. Primary sources enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.  Some specific examples of primary sources include personal diaries, letters or correspondence, autobiographies and newspaper articles.

Secondary sources are works that analyze, assess or interpret an historical event, era, or phenomenon, generally utilizing primary sources to do so. Secondary sources often offer a review or a critique. Secondary sources can include books, journal articles, speeches, reviews, research reports, and more. Generally speaking, secondary sources are written well after the events that are being researched.

Tertiary sources are sources that identify and locate primary and secondary sources. These can include bibliographies, indexes, abstracts, encyclopedias, and other reference resources; available in multiple formats, i.e. some are online, others only in print.


What are primary resources? - UCI libraries (accessed 10/19/2011, 2011).