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HUM STUD/HISTORY 102: Foundations of Western Culture II

Primary Sources

A primary source is a document or piece of evidence written or created during the time period you are studying. A primary source allows you to examine evidence firsthand without being affected by other opinions.

Some Types of Primary Sources:

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Memos
  • Speeches (both the text of the speech & the giving of the speech)
  • Autobiographies
  • Interviews
  • Patents
  • Laws, legislation, court rulings
  • Newspaper & magazine articles as an event happened
  • Raw data
  • Creative works: poetry, novels, drama, music, art, photography, movies, scripts, performances
  • Artifacts: buildings, clothes, jewelry, toys, fossils

Secondary Sources

A secondary source describes or analyzes a primary source. These sources are one step removed from the actual event and allow you to understand what scholars and other experts know about your topic.

Some Types of Secondary Sources:

  • Histories and critical commentaries
  • Textbooks
  • Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference materials
  • Newspaper articles, magazine articles, and web pages that describe primary sources

Comparing Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Source Secondary Source
AS17-148-22727, a photograph of the Earth known as The Blue Marble, taken by the crew of Apollo 17 An article from the Smithsonian website about space age images that includes AS17-148-22727
A 1901 passenger list of a ship carrying immigrants into Ellis Island A book analyzing the immigrant experience at Ellis Island
Nighthawks, a painting by artist Edward Hopper A critique of the painting Nighthawks in an art magazine
A New York Times newspaper article about the JFK assassination from the time period, November 1963 The Wikipedia entry for the JFK assassination
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., a book written by MLK that details his own life King: A Biography, a book written by a researcher that examines MLK's life