Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Primary Sources: American & World History

Primary and Secondary Sources

Problem loading? View the Primary Sources video from ProQuest

Before you attempt to find primary sources on a topic, you need to have a good understanding of what constitutes a primary source. It is very common for students to be confused about primary vs. secondary sources, so here is a brief breakdown:

Primary Sources:

A primary source is a document or object written or created during the time under study. The author/creator was present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular 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 a document that interprets or analyzes primary sources. These are second-hand accounts of an historical event.


  • 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