Revolution (Laffey)

Research Guide for History seminar.

Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources are original documents or accounts created at the time of an historical event or era. Memoirs, oral histories, and interviews are considered primary sources when they record direct eyewitness accounts to an event or era.

Types of primary sources include:

  • Letters & Diaries
  • Speeches
  • Interviews & Memoirs
  • Literary works
  • Buildings & Artifacts
  • Government Documents
  • Newspaper articles
  • Maps & Images
  • Sound Recordings
  • Works of Art
  • Research Data
  • Movies & Video

These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research.

Secondary sources comment upon, explain, or interpret primary sources.  They may include scholarly books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies, reviews, and textbooks. Keep in mind that, like any good retelling, the closer a secondary source is to the primary information, the more accurate.

Together, primary and secondary sources make up the key element of quality historical research.

Not sure what you're looking at? Consult your teacher or a librarian.

Source: ALA's Reference and User Service Association

Evaluating Primary Sources

Primary materials need to be carefully read and interpreted. Some questions to ask include:

  1. Who created the source and for what original purpose?
  2. Did the creator have firsthand knowledge?
  3. What biases or hidden agendas did the creator have? Is the document meant to persuade or inform?
  4. Was the source originally meant to be private or public?
  5. When was the source created? Soon after the event, years later?

For more explanation on how to use and interpret primary sources see:

Improve your results!

Here are a few links to tutorials and other pages help you get the most out of these Primary Source repositories.

Mixed Collections



Government Information


Newspapers & Magazines

Personal Accounts