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Tutt Library Research Guides

 

HY200 Colorado and Its Histories: About Primary Sources

Google Scholar

Google Scholar can be used to find primary sources. Click on the arrow to the right of the search box to open the Advanced Scholar Search window.

USA.Gov

U.S. History Primary Sources

National History Day Research Central (Recommended Resources)

Evaluating Primary Sources

Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages from Cornell University offers an excellent guide for evaluating primary sources. 

Citing Primary Sources

The following sites offer guides to citing primary sources in the Chicago style:

Library of Congress

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Citation at a Glance: Primary Source from a Web Site (Diana Hacker)

What is a Primary Source?

From Yale University

"Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format."      

 

Video produced by the University of California, San Diego's Social Sciences & Humanities Library.

KNOW Your Sources...

Primary Sources

A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment. The purpose of primary sources is to capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.

Examples of primary sources include documents, artifacts, historic sites, songs, or other written and tangible items created during the historical period you are studying.

Secondary Sources

A secondary source is a source that was not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era. Secondary sources are usually created by historians, but based on the historian's reading of primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written decades, if not centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue. The purpose of a secondary source is to help build the story of your research from multiple perspectives and to give your research historical context.

An example of a secondary source is Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson, published in 1988. They are a great starting point in helping you see the big picture. Understanding the context of your topic will help you make sense of the primary sources that you find.

The primary and secondary sources McPherson used are listed in the bibliography. Another researcher might consult these same primary sources and reach a different conclusion.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are based on a collection of primary and secondary sources and may or may not be written by an expert. Tertiary sources should never appear in your bibliography but are only used as exploratory sources, to give you ideas about what to research. Wikipedia is not a reliable source and should not be utilized or appear in your bibliography.

Examples are dictionaries, encyclopedias, fact books, and guidebooks.

Content © 2009 National History Day

More About Primary Sources

World War I Posters in Special Collecions

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Artifacts
  • Autobiographies
  • Capitivity Narratives
  • Correspondence
  • Court proceedings
  • Diaries
  • Government records
  • Letters
  • Magazines
  • Maps
  • Memoirs
  • Newspapers
  • Oral Histories
  • Pamphlets
  • Papers
  • Personal Narratives
  • Photographs
  • Records
  • Songs
  • Speeches

    Learn More About Primary Sources

    Primary Sources at Yale defines and explains the importance of primary sources along with a series of questions for evaluating documents.

    Use a Secondary Source to Find a Primary Source

    A bibliography from a good secondary source is a fast, easy way to find primary sources.

    Tutt Library, Colorado College      Research Help Desk: 719-389-6662, Texting: 719-387-5441, E-mail: tuttref@ColoradoCollege.edu