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McCormick Library Distance Learning with Primary Sources

Primary & Secondary Sources

Primary Sources: Original documents, evidence, first-hand accounts, created or experienced contemporaneously with the topic being researched.  

Examples: letters, diaries, student organization records, scrapbooks, photographs, maps, land records, blueprints, Greek organization records, course bulletins & catalogs, artifacts, residence hall records, oral histories, films, audio recordings, newsletters, yearbooks, and newspaper articles written during the time being researched. 

Secondary Sources: Works that are not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with the topic being researched. Instead, they rely on primary sources for information. They typically analyze and interpret primary sources. 

Examples: books, journal articles, magazine and newspaper articles, biographies. 

Additional Resources: 

Analyzing Sources

Here are some questions to keep in mind when analyzing primary sources: 

  • Who is the author or creator?
  • When was the primary source created?
  • Who was the intended audience? 
  • What biases or assumptions may have influenced the author or creator?
  • What was going on historically when this source was created?
  • What was the significance of the source at the time it was created?
  • What are some limitations of the source?
  • How does this source relate to other sources you're consulting? 
  • Is this source reliable?
  • Does your understanding of the source fit with scholar's interpretations, or does it challenge their argument? 

Additional Resource: