Tutt Library Research Guides
National History Day Research Central (Recommended Resources)
This documentary use of film and written/audio accounts demonstrates various kinds of primary and secondary 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.
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 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
On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office and delivered one of the most famous inaugural addresses in U.S. history with the line "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
World War I Posters
Colorado College Tutt Library Special Collections
Examples of primary sources include:
The following sites offer guides to citing primary sources in the Chicago style:
Citation at a Glance: Primary Source from a Web Site (Diana Hacker)