Skip to Main Content

Primary Sources: American & World History

Primary and Secondary Sources

Problem loading? View the Primary Sources video from ProQuest

Before you try to find primary sources for a topic, it's important to know what exactly a primary source is. Many students get mixed up about primary and secondary sources, so let's quickly go over the difference.

Primary Sources:

A primary source is something made or written during the time you're studying. The person who made it or wrote it was there and saw it happen, giving you a firsthand look at a specific event.

Types of primary sources include:

  • Original documents like diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, and official records
  • Creative works like poetry, drama, novels, music, and art
  • Relics or artifacts like pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings


  • The Diary of Anne Frank book (written during WWII and Holocaust)
  • Text of the Gettysburg Address (speech given during the American Civil War)
  • Native American pottery (art created during a time period/culture being studied)

Secondary Sources:

A secondary source is like a storyteller or a reporter who wasn't there when something happened but heard about it from someone else. They share information and opinions based on what others have said or written.


  • A book published in 2008 about Abraham Lincoln's assassination
    • Note: a newspaper article from the days after the assassination would be a primary source
  • A biology research article discussing the findings of other scientists
  • Encyclopedia articles
  • A book about the effects of the American Civil War