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HST 141: Primary Resources

Source Types

A primary source provides an original, first-hand account of a time period or event. Think of primary sources as historical evidence of the past that are usually written, created, or recorded during the time of the event/period it is describing or depicting. Newspaper articles, letters, statues, photographs, diaries, public records, and some books can all be examples of primary sources.

Here are some famous examples of primary sources:

  • Gettysburg Address
  • Rosetta Stone
  • Diary of Anne Frank
  • Statue of David
  • U.S. Constitution

For a deeper explanation and for more examples, click here.

Secondary sources collect and explain primary sources. For example, think of a textbook. The author of your textbook writes about events that have already happened in the past. What you may have not realized is that the author has interpreted various primary resources to be able to write about that event. Your textbook will often have pictures and documents from that era (primary sources) to supplement the text within your textbook. So while the textbook itself is a secondary source, you will find primary resources within it.

Here are some comparisons:

Primary Source Secondary Source
A speech by Abraham Lincoln A biography about Abraham Lincoln's life
U.S. census statistics A book about population growth in the U.S.

Tertiary sources use primary and secondary sources to construct a narrative and/or a theory.