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Secondary Sources: What are they?
What are secondary sources in history?
Secondary sources are documents written by historians, typically long after the event or era, to help explain, analyze, or retell a historical event or era. They help shine a light and provide a particular perspective or interpretation.
- journal articles
- newspaper articles (long after the fact)
- books or textbooks
Finding Secondary Sources
Want to find books or films about your topic? Check out the library catalog to see what's available.
Another general database. This doesn't have subject headings and only searches full-text. The more words you search the fewer results you'll get.
A general catch-all database. A good place to start, but don't forget it has a lot of non-scholarly stuff in it.
EBSCO database that has history, art, music, literature, theatre, and dance, etc.
This is a database that includes a bunch of encyclopedias and dictionaries. A great place to look for background information about your topic before digging a little deeper.
Primary Sources: What are they?
What are primary sources in history?
Primary sources are documents, objects, or artifacts that were created during the time or event being studied, or were created by someone who witnessed or participated in it after the fact, for example, a memoir. They allow us to get as close as we can to what actually happened during a particular historical era or event. They are the raw materials historians study to use as evidence in a historical argument.
- official government documents or original personal documents
- pamphlets or posters
- writings, letters, journals, or diaries
- photographs or artwork
- newspaper articles (from the time)
*In later eras this may also include interviews, digital photos, videos, or social media posts.
Primary Sources: Where to find them
Topic Specific Digital Libraries
Searching for Primary Sources
- If you know the name of a particular document, search for that exact item. Be sure to use a reproduction or scan of the original document rather than readable computer made text, for your presentation.
- Unlike secondary sources, searching for a broad topic may not be successful as many documents/objects may be titled with a specific name rather than a reference to the time period or event. Browsing to find an appropriate collection might be easier.
- You can either select a source from a curated collection or search a larger collection. When searching, remember to consider terms and words that were appropriate for the era, or using any limiters or narrowing options provided by the database.
Searching for Secondary Sources
- Searching for a specific year is effective. However searching for a decade or range of time is really difficult. This is because the computer programs are looking for an exact match to whatever you type, so if you search 1960s but the author says sixties, or even 60s, it won't return as a a positive result. If you're searching for an era, you're more likely to be successful searching for the name of it like Victorian Era or The Great Depression.
- When searching for people, use quotation marks around their name to get the system to search for the name as a phrase. Also be sure to check if their are alternate spellings of a person's name.
- Keep in mind that place names have also changed throughout history. You may need to search for both the contemporary name as well as the historical place name.