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Primary Sources

This is a guide to general and specific primary sources

Types of Sources

Primary Sources

  • Direct evidence, first-hand testimony, or an eyewitness account of a topic or event
  • Primary sources provide the raw data for your research
  • Examples:  In addition to diaries, correspondence, photographs, and many other types of sources typically considered to be primary sources, you may add just about anything to the list. The way you interpret or use a source determines whether it is a primary source or not.

Definitions from NYU Libraries. Adapted from The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c2008.


Primary Sources

A page from John Washington’s diary in 1858. (left) and a letter written by Maria Perkins to her husband while she was a slave. (right).

Article from the Atlanta Constitution, 1874.

Secondary Sources

  • Use primary data to solve research problems
  • Examples:  scholarly books and articles

Definitions from NYU Libraries. Adapted from The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c2008.


Journal Article

Wintory, B. (2009). The House that Cotton Built: Recovering African American History at Lakeport Plantation.
Arkansas Review: A Journal Of Delta Studies, 40(2), 100-104.

Tertiary Sources

  • Books or articles that synthesize and report on secondary sources for general readers
  • Examples:  textbooks, encyclopedia articles, Wikipedia

Definitions from NYU Libraries. Adapted from The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c2008.


Tertiary Sources

Rodriguez, Junius P. Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia.
Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2007. Print.

Wikipedia, Slavery in the United States. 2017.

 

  Primary Source Secondary Source
Art:      original artwork article critiquing the piece of art
History:      slave diary book about the Underground Railroad
Literature:     poem book or article on a particular genre of poetry
Political Science:     treaty essay on Native American land rights
Science or Social Sciences:     report of an original experiment review of several studies on the same topic
Theater:     videotape of a performance biography of a playwright

Examples from Georgetown University Library.