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LITTRANS 260: Italy and the Invention of America (Fall 2020) : Primary vs. Secondary Sources

This guide is intended for students of LITTRANS 260 to help them in their course research.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs or oral histories. They enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period to help them understand and interpret the past. In humanities research, primary sources can also include original creative works, such as literature, art and music.

Some examples of types and formats for primary sources include:

  • Books such as personal narratives, memoirs, and autobiographies, collected works, and collections of documents (these may be edited and published after the historical event or time period); novels, poetry, drama, etc.
  • Journal and magazine articles 
  • Newspaper articles 
  • Government documents
  • Archival sources such as diaries, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts, and other papers and records of organizations
  • Multimedia sources such as photographs, audio recordings, and motion pictures or video recording; artwork (of all mediums)

Secondary sources are any published or unpublished works that are a step removed from original sources, usually describing, summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, derived from, or based on primary sources. Some examples of secondary sources are: histories about a topic, works of criticism and interpretation, monographs, textbooks, biographies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, handbooks and manuals, bibliographies, and directories.

Remember that a primary or secondary source is not defined by its format, but rather whether the content is an original first-hand work or not.

To learn more about primary sources, see the Primary Sources for Humanities and Social Sciences research guide.

Online Primary Sources