What is a Primary Source?

Understanding what primary and secondary sources are is an important first step for the study of history.

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records
CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art
RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings
Examples of primary sources include:

Diary of Anne Frank – Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII
The Constitution of Canada – Canadian History
Weavings and pottery – Native American history
Plato’s Republic – Ancient Greece
What is a secondary source?
A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more generations removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include:

PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias
Examples of secondary sources include:

A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings
A history textbook
A book about the causes of WWI

Now think of an activity that you enjoy doing or a subject that interests you.  Identify:

1. ORIGINAL DOCUMENT (Primary Source)

2. An OBJECT OR ARTIFACT (Primary Source) This will be an image of an object/artifact from the web related to your activity or subject.

3. Finally, identify a secondary source related to your subject.  MCC’s library has an abundance of useful databases (http://middlesexcc.libguides.com/historyguide) or use Google Scholar, Google Books.

4. Post your sources and citations. Please cite the material using an appropriate academic citation method (MLA, APA, or Chicago).  You can find out how to cite your work by doing a simple Google search for free citation software (http://www.citationmachine.net/).  Many word processing software programs come with these tools embedded as well (see “references” in Word).

Your submission should look like this:

1. Topic Title

1 primary source and citation – an Original Document

1 primary source and citation – an Object/picture/artwork

1 secondary source and citation

This assessment addresses Course Learning Outcome(s):

Employ appropriate research methodologies to study major topics in US History and to produce clear, well-organized and accurate term papers and journal critiques to communicate knowledge of US History, according to AHA standards.


Categories: HistoryMLA


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