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Women's Studies Program

The resources on this libguide can be used for a general women's studies class or specific.

What Are Primary/Secondary Sources?

Primary Sources were either created during the time period being studied, or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs) and they reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. 

NOTE: They may also include published pieces such as newspaper or magazine articles (as long as they are written soon after the fact and not as historical accounts). Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. 

Examples:
Original Documents (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records (i.e, census, marriage, military records)
Creative Works: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art, photographs, maps, postcards, posters
Relics or Artifacts: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings  

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Secondary Sources interpret and analyze primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them.

Examples:
Dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, and books and articles that interpret or review research works. 

 

When Evaluating Primary or Secondary Sources, the following questions might be asked to help ascertain the nature and value of material being considered:

  • How does the author know these details (names, dates, times)? Was the author present at the event or soon on the scene?
  • Where does this information come from—personal experience, eyewitness accounts, or reports written by others?
  • Are the author's conclusions based on a single piece of evidence, or have many sources been taken into account (e.g., diary entries, along with third-party eyewitness accounts, impressions of contemporaries, newspaper accounts)?

Ultimately, all source materials of whatever type must be assessed critically and even the most scrupulous and thorough work is viewed through the eyes of the writer/interpreter. This must be taken into account when one is attempting to arrive at the 'truth' of an event.

 

Further information on primary and secondary source material may be found at:
W.W. Norton & Company. (1997). Primary Source Evidence versus Secondary Source Material. New York.
Page created by Thomas Pearcy, Ph.D. and Mary Dickson.
Retrieved 16th March 2010 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/ralph/research/prisec.htm#primary

 

Visual Example Of Primary and Secondary Sources