Primary sources typically consist of eye-witness accounts of an event or topic. The creators of primary sources witnessed or recorded the events they experienced first-hand.
Primary sources can also include sources like autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories, that were created after the events by participants or observers of the events.
Primary documents are often accessible online in electronic formats - for example, a digitized copy of a historical treaty - but still retain their status as primary documents based on the nature of their content not their format.
Depending on the discipline (psychology versus history, for example) a primary source can be different. In history, primary sources often include original documents or other first-hand accounts of an event. By contrast, in literature, a primary source include original works like novels, poems, or dramatic plays.
In contrast to primary sources, secondary sources make use of primary sources to review, analyze, and provide commentary on a topic. Secondary sources are typically created by individuals or groups who were not eye-witnesses to an event, but make use of the work and accounts of others to examine a topic in detail.
|Subject Area||Primary Source||Secondary Source|
|History||Letters of Thomas Jefferson||The Mind of Thomas Jefferson by Peter Onuf|
|Political Science||Yalta Conference Agreement||Eight days at Yalta : how Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin shaped the post-war world, by Diana Preston|
|Art||Joan Miró, The Farm||Joan Miró : painting and anti-painting 1927-1937, by Anne Umland|
|Social Sciences||Behavioral Study of obedience, by Stanley Milgram||Stanley Milgram: understanding obedience and its implications, by Peter Lunt|
|Literature||Ulysses, by James Joyce||James Joyce's Ulysses, by Harold Bloom|
|Statistics||United States Census Data||America classifies the immigrants: from Ellis Island to the 2020 census, by Joel Perlmann|
Scholars and historians who conduct research and write about a given historical topic produce secondary sources. A book-length treatment of a singular topic is called a monograph, which is a type of secondary source.
A historical monograph is a book written by an author - typically a professional historian focused on a singular topic in history (as opposed to a broad treatment of a historical time period). The scholar conducts original research on the topic, most likely by consulting primary and secondary sources, and publishes the book with the intention of adding to the field of historical study.
There is a wide range of different types of primary sources. Primary sources are not just limited to printed text. Print is just one of the many different formats possible.
|First-hand accounts or original documents||Data||Creative Works||Relics or Artifacts|
|diaries||raw statistical data||artwork||pottery|
|speeches||collected research data||literature||clothing and textiles|
|news film footage|
News and newspaper articles are a unique type of source - sometimes they are primary sources and sometimes secondary sources. There are some important things to consider when deciding whether a newspaper article is a primary source or not:
When was it written?
News articles written during the events they describe are more likely to be considered primary sources versus news articles that recount events from the past - separated by a long interval of time.
What type of article is it?
Editorial or Opinion articles offer commentary and perspective on the news, but are not considered to be first-hand accounts of events.