Primary and Secondary Sources

Media Centers hold items, like video footage, documents, artwork, music, and books that help us explore the past. These items can be designated as primary and secondary sources.

Primary Sources are

  • original materials
  • from the time period
  • are free from interpretation

Some examples are letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, and memoirs.

Secondary Sources are

  • written after the fact
  • have the benefit of hindsight
  • often interpret primary sources

Some examples are biographies, commentaries, journal articles, and history textbooks.

Most of our research will involve using both types of sources. Together, the sources enlighten us about the past.

How do you tell the difference between the two types of sources?  View the PowerPoint below for information that may help.


Take a look at this website for solid information about using primary sources:

Using Primary Sources: RUSA

Test your expertise!  Take this online quiz:

Primary and Secondary Sources Self Test


Primary Source Repositories

Library of Congress Primary Sources

A Treasury of Primary Sources


Primary Documents Online

Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet

African History:  Stanford University Primary Sources

Gilda Lehrman Institute of American History

Library of Congress American Memory

Library of Congress Science Primary Sources

The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education

Holocaust Documents: University of South Florida

Primary Sources: Tudor England  Primary Sources in Women's History

Primary Sources On the Web

Florida History Fair:  Using Primary Sources

Early Modern Resources

Salem in History

University of Washington:  Research Guide go Primary Sources, Medicine

Images from the History of Medicine

TechTeachers Resources for Primary Sources


These websites are full of information about the characteristics of primary and secondary sources:

Defining Primary and Secondary Sources: Library Archives Canada Learning Centre

What is a primary source? University of Nevada

Finding Historical Primary Sources: University of California Berkeley

Why Study History Through Primary Sources? Fordham University

How to Read a Primary Source: Bowdoin College

Primary and Secondary Resources: Western Oregon University

University of Illinois Library Primary Resource Guide

University of Washington:  Guide to Finding Primary Sources

Loyola University:  Teaching with Primary Sources


Of interest to Teachers

National Archive: Teaching with Documents

Smithsonian Source: Resources for Teaching American History

Smithsonian Institution Archives