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HIST 2110 Primary Sources Assignment: Primary Sources

Historians use primary sources to study past events.

On this page, watch the video then do the "Primary Source or Not?" exercise.

What's a primary source?

(4:18) From HistoryVideos100

What are primary sources?

(image from

Primary sources are the raw materials of historical research - they are the documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation. Often they are created during the time period which is being studied (correspondence, diaries, newspapers, government documents, art) but they can also be produced later by eyewitnesses or participants (memoirs, oral histories). You may find primary sources in their original format (usually in an archive) or reproduced in a variety of ways: books, microfilm, digital, etc.

In contrast...

Secondary sources are interpretations of events written after an examination of primary sources and usually other secondary sources, such as books and journal articles.

When you write a research paper, you are creating a secondary source!

Want to know more about Primary Sources?

If you're into primary sources, check out these guides!

Primary Source or Not?

Pretend you are a historian researching children's toys in the 1990s.

Follow the links below and consider whether each is a primary or secondary source.

Here's an online version of this exercise:

Analyzing a Primary Source

(2:06) from Library of Congress

This film presents a short primary source analysis activity that includes observation, reflection and questioning.

History Research Map