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ICS Capstone Seminar: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Image courtesy Cardinal Stritch University Library

Primary sources are
contemporary, first-hand, (un)published accounts of an event. Published = printed, filmed, uploaded, or digitized (non-archival) materials.

Archival Collections


  • International newspapers--Links to and descriptions of (nearly) all of the Duke Library's newspapers - original, electronic & microform, as well as links to collections available to members of the Duke community, but located outside of Duke itself.

Primary Source Publications

Publications of original documents, often with retrospective scholarly analysis and bibliographies. 

  • Letters and correspondence
  • Diaries and personal narratives
  • Interviews
  • Government documents (e.g. US State Dept. reports on Countries and Human Rights; UN Human Development Reports)
  • Laws & Legislation 
  • Belles lettres (eg. critical editions of fiction and poetry)

Audiovisual Materials

  • Still Images: Embedded Collections (image searching in journal databases, eg. AP Images, ARTstor, Cinema Image Gallert frin Wilson web), portals (Collections of Image Sites from Trustworthy Sources -- The Interntational and Area Studies Librarians at Duke maintain excellent image portals in the research guides for their respective areas); and commercial collections (ORBIS, carge for use, but browsing is free)
  • Moving Images (Video/Films)
  • Sound-recordings – such as oral histories, political speeches = eg. Search by format ("Audio") for keyword (eg. "human rights")

Numerical & Geospatial Data

  • Maps and geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Non-spatial data sets – indices do not take into account any spatial relationships of the geographical entities (i.e., distances apart, clustering within, spatial concentrations, etc.).
  • Using Statistics (Purdue): Numbers don't speak for themselves. Here's advice on how to use statistics effectively.

Primary Source Databases

Secondary Sources

Image courtesy Cardinal Stritch University Library

Secondary Sources are retrospective analyses based on the author's own reading of existing primary sources. Scholarly work uses recent, peer-reviewed academic sources, such as journal (not magazine) articles, books, and book chapters.



Dissertations & theses

Book Reviews

Evaluating Source & Peer Review

When your instructor or assignment calls for you to use scholarly or peer-reviewed sources, here are some questions to ask as you evaluate the materials you find:

  • Who wrote the article and what authority or credentials do they have?
  • Who published the article and what is their publication process? 
  • When was this published?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What references are cited and how are they documented?