The goal of this guide is to help you locate research for your history projects. Typically, historical research can be separated into two categories: Primary and Secondary. First though, it is important to understand the differences between the two types of resources. Your course instructor has undoubtedly gone over the differences but for review purposes:
A Primary Source is Defined As: Materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or as witnesses. These sources provide the evidence on which historians rely in order to describe and interpret the past. Some primary sources are written documents, such as letters; diaries; newspaper and magazine articles; speeches; autobiographies; treatises; census data; and marriage, birth, and death registers. In addition, historians often examine primary sources that are not written, like works of art, films, recordings, items of clothing, household objects, tools, and archaeological remains.
A Secondary Source is Defined As: A resource that discusses a prior event from an academic or research or layperson perspective. The key here is that the resource is from some time after the event. An example of this would be a book about the American Civil War or an article in a journal publication discussing the importance of the Battle of Gettysburg. A book will NOT typically be a primary source unless it is a compilation of letters or diary entries or documents.
Primary vs. Secondary Source: Often times determining whether something is primary or secondary may depend on the question that is being asked. For instance, if a researcher is researching the causes of the American Civil War and reads a book on that topic published in 1900 that may be determined to be secondary but if the question is then about opinions of the the causes of the American Civil War that same book can then become primary.
If you have questions ask your professor and they will certainly clarify any indecision.
Please link on one of the tabs above to continue and to locate resources specific to your particular history course. This is a work in progress, so, if resources are not yet available check back often for updates.
If you want more details about Primary and Secondary sources go to their respective tabs above and also see the handout below.