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HIS 324 Delaware History: Locating Primary Sources

What is a Primary Resource

A primary source provides direct or first hand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, speeches, newspaper articles, and art objects. Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources.

According to the UC Berkeley Library: "Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period."

The UCLA Institute on Primary Resources states that "primary resources provide firsthand evidence of historical events. They are generally unpublished materials, such as manuscripts, photographs, maps, artifacts, audio and video recordings, oral histories, postcards, and posters. In some instances, published materials can also be viewed as primary materials for the period in which they were written."

The Ohio Historical Society defines primary sources as a "source created by people who actually saw or participated in an event and recorded that event or their reactions to it immediately after the event."

One can view a primary source as a firsthand account of an event. It is important to note that primary sources "present information in its original form, neither interpreted nor condensed nor evaluated by other writers" (James Cook University).

Why Use Primary Resources?

To explain how major events are related to each other in time.
To think critically and distinguish between fact and opinion.
To recognize point of view in print and visual materials.
To develop your own conclusions and analyze how historical events affect your life.
To recognize failures and successes in the past in order to make better decisions as a citizen.
To understand who you are by examining your roots or placing yourself in that time period or situation. 

What are Secondary Resources?

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.

Secondary sources are often created long after the events they describe, by people who were not there at the time. Secondary sources can be a good introduction to a historical issue or event, since they are usually based on a range of primary sources.

Some types of secondary sources include:  Textbooks, journal/magazine articles, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias.

Why Use Secondary Resources?

To get expert opinions in order to evaluate what really happened.
To gain insight by examining the same event from different perspectives.
To form your own opinion.
To save time by reading information collected from a number of different sources.

Priamry vs. Secondary Resources