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HSTY 320: History of Latin America

Primary Sources Guide

Visit the Primary Sources guide to learn more about finding primary sources.

Primary & Secondary Sources

Historians use the term primary source to describe all sources that are original. Primary sources provide firsthand information that is closest to the object of study. 

  • Common examples of primary sources include speeches, letters, diaries, autobiographies, interviews, official reports, court records, artifacts, photographs, and drawings.
  • In the social sciences, original reports of research found in academic journals detailing the methodology used in the research, as well as in-depth descriptions and discussions of the findings, can be considered primary sources of information.  These sources are often referred to as empirical.

secondary source is a source that provides non-original or secondhand data or information. 

  • Secondary sources are usually based on primary sources. Books by historians, articles in academic journals, and literature review articles are common secondary sources. Historians typically use these secondary resources to get a better understanding of a topic and to find further primary and secondary sources on a topic. 
  • Other examples of secondary sources include biographies, critical studies of an author's work, and compilations of essays by historians.

Turabian, K. L. (2018). A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Ninth Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Galvan, J. L. (2013). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences. Glendale, CA: Pyrczak.

Persaud, N. (2010). “Primary data source.” In N. Salkind (Ed.), Encyclopedia of research design. (pp. 1095-1098). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

“Secondary Source.” (2005). In W. Paul Vogt (Ed.), Dictionary of Statistics & Methodology. (p. 291). Third Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Weidenborner, S. & Caruso, D. (1997). Writing research papers: A guide to the process. New York: St. Martin's Press.