Project Description

What are Primary Sources?

These are sources which are first -hand accounts or evidence. They are original materials, often used as the starting point for further studies and research.  First-hand sources are the best way to get close to a person, period or event.
Sometimes published material will be considered a primary source if it was written at the time and by someone with first-hand experience of the event.
It is important to bear in mind that whilst contemporaneous, first-hand accounts are likely to be written from one person’s perspective. They need not necessarily be just written: primary sources can include pictures and artefacts. In the world of science, primary sources include original thinking, reports on new information or publications detailing a discovery.

What are Secondary Sources?

These are sources which discuss, comment on, describe, analyse or interpret primary sources. They are often written after the event or the time it happened. As a result, they are able to contextualise the event and see it from a different perspective. As time moves on, they may be part of an advancing body of work interpreting events or primary sources. They may comprise written and non-written materials.

Primary Sources ... examples

Primary Sources

  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Diaries, personal letters, and correspondence
  • Interviews, surveys, and fieldwork
  • Internet communications on email, blogs and newsgroups
  • Photographs, drawings, and posters
  • Works of art and literature
  • Books, magazine and newspaper articles and ads published at the time
  • Public opinion polls
  • Speeches and oral histories
  • Original documents (birth certificates, property deeds, trial transcripts)
  • Research data, such as census statistics
  • Official and unofficial records of organizations and government agencies
  • Artefacts of all kinds, such as tools, coins, clothing, furniture, etc.
  • Audio recordings, DVDs, and video recordings
  • Government documents (reports, bills, proclamations, hearings, etc.)
  • Patents
  • Technical reports
  • Scientific journal articles reporting experimental research results

Secondary Sources ...examples

Secondary Sources

  • Bibliographies
  • Biographical works
  • Reference books, including dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and atlases
  • Articles from magazines, journals, and newspapers after the event
  • Literature reviews and review articles (e.g., movie reviews, book reviews)
  • History books and other popular or scholarly books
  • Works of criticism and interpretation
  • Commentaries and treatises
  • Textbooks
  • Indexes and abstracts