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Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Primary sources provide direct or firsthand evidence about an event, person, or object. These sources are contemporary to the events and people described. In the context of historical research, primary sources are sources that were created during the specific time period being studied. In the sciences, primary sources are often studies designed by researchers who have collected statistical data, conducted experiments, and/or made observations.
Some examples of primary sources include:
- Newspaper articles
- Memoirs and autobiographies
- Novels, poems
- Government documents
- Statistical data
- Audio and video recordings
Secondary sources were produced sometime after an event took place. Unlike primary sources, secondary sources do not provide firsthand evidence. Instead, they provide information that has been analyzed or interpreted in some way. Secondary sources often analyze information that has been gathered from various primary sources.
Examples of secondary sources include:
- Book reviews
- Scholarly articles (those that interpret or analyze other sources)
- Literature reviews
Finding Primary Sources Online: Selected Resources
Doctor or Doctress? Explore American History through the Eyes of Women Physicians
Courtesy of Drexel University, this site provides access to documents highlighting women's experiences (including African American women) as health professionals in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Katherine Johnson: Visionary Videos
Includes video clips (at the bottom of the page) of an interview with Katherine Johnson, legendary NASA mathematician and physicist. This is part of the National Visionary Leadership Project. The project mission "is to develop the next generation of leaders by recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of extraordinary African American elders--Visionaries—who have transcended barriers, shaped American history, and influenced the world through the rich African American tradition of social change."
Walter P. Reuther Library: Society of Women Engineers
Photos from the Society of Women Engineers (in Detroit), courtesy of Wayne State University.
Women in Chemistry Oral History Project
Courtesy of Iowa State University Special Collections and Archives, this site provides transcript portions of interviews with selected women in the field of chemistry.
Archives of Sexuality and Gender
Archives of Sexuality & Gender, the largest collection available in support of the study of gender and sexuality, enables scholars to make new connections in LGBTQ history and activism, cultural studies, psychology, health, political science, policy studies, and other related areas of research.
Includes: LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940, Parts I & II; Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Century; and International Perspectives on LGBTQ Activism and Culture.
Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600 - 2000
Includes more than 25,000 pages of documents pertaining to women and social movements. The database includes documents specific to women engineers, women inventors, and environmental issues explored by the League of Women Voters (among other topics in science).
Women and Social Movements International: 1840 to Present
Women and Social Movements International: 1840 to Present provides full-text access to primary source materials collected from over 300 repositories. Sources cover a wide range of subject themes, including (among many others) gender and agriculture, gender and international economic development, gender and global human rights, women and global political activism, and international family planning.
Understanding the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources
Below are some additional resources that explain the differences between primary and secondary sources and key questions you can ask to determine if a source falls into one category or another.