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HIS 110: Historical Perspectives on Contemporary World Issues: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Image courtesy Cardinal Stritch University Library


Primary sources
are first-hand accounts of an event. Primary sources may include newspaper articles, letters, diaries, interviews, laws, reports of government commissions, and many other types of documents.

How to Read a Primary Source (Bowdoin College) includes a helpful section with questions to ask when evaluating a primary source.

Examples of Primary Sources

     Visual Resources

  • Still Images/photos
  • Videos taken at the time of the event
  • Sound-recordings – such as oral histories, political speeches

   Numerical & Geospatial Data

  • Maps
  • Non-spatial data sets

Peer Review in Three Minutes

Secondary Sources

Image courtesy Cardinal Stritch University Library

Secondary Sources are analyses based on the author's own reading of existing primary sources. Scholarly works use peer-reviewed academic sources, such as journal articles, books, and book chapters for research.

What is a scholarly or peer reviewed article? View NCSU Library's 5-minute tutorial: Peer Review in Three Minutes

Examples of Secondary Sources

   Books

  • Reference books (subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries give you a helpful overview of your topic, provide authoritative definitions of terms, theoretical concepts and historical events, and a bibliography. 
  • Published research: scientific studies and monographs, containing scholarly analysis,  Footnotes and bibliographies provide additional resources and substantiate the author's research.
    • For example: BergeĢ€re, M. (2009). Shanghai: China's gateway to modernity. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

   Articles

  • Scholarly articles
    • For example: Lee, J. T. (2001). The overseas chinese networks and early baptist missionary movement across the south china sea. Historian, 63(4), 753-768.
  • Magazine or journal articles that analyze an idea or event

   Dissertations & Theses

   Book Reviews

Examples of Primary/Secondary Sources

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

"Lincoln at Gettysburg: the Words That Remade America" by Gary Wills 

Martha Foster Crawford diary, 1868-1876

Martha (Foster) Crawford, of Alabama, was a Baptist missionary. Her diary documents her experiences as a Baptist missionary to China.

Lee, J. T. (2001). The overseas chinese networks and early baptist missionary movement across the south china sea. Historian, 63(4), 753-768. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2001.tb01944.x

The table, "Number of Offenses Known to the Police, Universities and Colleges," in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, 2012

An article in the journal Ithacan, "Study Finds Eastern Colleges Often Conceal Campus Crime"

Sidney Gamble’s photograph, “Rickshas on Bund, Shanghai.” (1917-1919). 

Chang, C. (1956). Ting hsien: A north china rural community sidney D. gamble. Pacific Historical Review, 25(1), 93-95.