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Michigan State University

History of Science and Technology: A Research Guide: Primary & Secondary Sources

HPS studies the intertwining of humanistic scholarly approaches to investigating science and technology.

Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources

Primary sources are the direct, uninterpreted records of the subject of your research project. As such, a primary source can be almost anything, depending on the subject and purpose of your research. Be creative in thinking of possible relevant primary sources of information on your topic.

Why Use Primary Sources?

  • A primary source is as close as you can get to the event, person, phenomenon, or other subject of your research.
  • A primary source on its own is likely only a snippet or snapshot of the full picture; thus it is often difficult to interpret on its own.
  • Reference sources and secondary analyses give you a framework for interpreting primary sources. T
  • The real work of research is examining primary sources to test the interpretations, analyses, and views you find in reference and secondary sources.
  • Use primary sources to find evidence that challenges these interpretations, or evidence in favor of one scholar's interpretation over that of another; then posit an interpretation of your own, and look for more primary sources for evidence to confirm or refute your thesis.
  • When you present your conclusions, you will have produced another secondary source to aid others in their research.

Types of Primary Sources:

  • Lab reports: experiments, observations, etc.
  • Historical documents: official papers, maps, treaties, etc.
  • First –person accounts: diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews, speeches, etc.
  • Recordings: audio, video, photographic, etc.
  • Artifacts: manufactured items such as clothing, furniture, tools, buildings
  • Newspapers: some types of articles
  • Government publications: statistics, court reports, etc.
  • Internet resources: see, especially, digitized versions of historical documents
  • Manuscript collections: collected writings, notes, letters, and other unpublished works
  • Books: extensive and detailed discussions of a particular topic or set of topics, written by the scholars and researchers who came up with the ideas or discovered the findings

Primary Souces - Guides

For more assistance with finding Primary & secondary sources, please see these guides:

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