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.
First hand accounts or original sources includes:
In the Humanities (history, literature, religion), primary sources focus on original documents or accounts contemporary to a specific event or an individual’s life. Terms such as “eyewitness” or “firsthand” are also commonly used to describe these sources. Autobiographical accounts written at a later date are also considered primary sources. Letters, diaries, journal entries, public records as well as contemporaneous newspapers articles offer solid examples of this type of primary source. Fictional works such as short stories or novels written during that specific time period constitute primary documents, too.
In the Arts (art, dance, music, theatre), primary sources are as diverse as the various disciplines in the category. They may include paintings, sculpture, prints, performances, video or audio recordings, scripts, or musical scores.
Social Sciences (psychology, sociology, education) place a heavy emphasis on unanalyzed data sets as primary sources. Numerical data sets such as census figures, opinion polls, surveys or interview transcripts constitute this type of raw, uninterpreted data. A researcher’s field notes are also primary sources in the social sciences.
In the Sciences (biology, ecology, chemistry), primary source documents focus on original research, ideas, or findings published in academic journals. These articles mark the first publication of such research; and they detail the researcher’s methodology and results. Plant or mineral samples and other artifacts are primary sources as well.
Borrowed from Berea College Hutchins Library
Examples of STEM primary resources
|Diaries or Journals||Correspondence (Letters, Email, or Text Messages)|
|Maps (Dating to the Period)||Official Records or Ledgers|
|Patents||Real Estate Records|
|Original Research||Census Data|
-- Meghan Courtney, Outreach Archivist, Walter P. Reuther Library
A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some examples of secondary sources include:
While primary sources offer a firsthand account, secondary sources are written after the fact. Secondary sources analyze, interpret, explain, or analyze a primary source, event or individual. These resources represent a second publication cycle, tasked with presenting an argument or to persuade the reader.
|Discipline||Primary Source||Secondary Source|
|Archaeology||farming tools||treatise on innovative analysis of neolithic artifacts|
|Art||sketch book||conference proceedings on French Impressionists|
|History||Emancipation Proclamation (1863)||book on the anti-slavery struggle|
|Journalism||interview||biography of publisher Katherine Myer Graham|
|Law||legislative hearing||law review article on anti-terrorism legislation|
|Literature||novel||literary criticism on The Name of the Rose|
|Music||score of an opera||biography of composer Georges Bizet|
|Political Science||public opinion poll||newspaper article on campaign finance reform|
|Rhetoric||speech||editorial comment on Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech|
|Sociology||voter registry||Ph.D. dissertation on Hispanic voting patterns|
Borrowed from Indiana University Bloomington Libraries