Western Libraries

HIS3320 Global America: The U.S. in World Affairs, 1700 to the Present

What is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources?

Primary sources are the main source of data in the discipline of history. It is vital to learn how to access, evaluate, and incorporate them into your historical research.


Primary Sources:

  • Usually immediate, first hand accounts created by people who have a direct connection to the events and issues involved
  • Can be in any format - text, video, audio, image, etc.
  • May be digital or physical, but  are often rare or unique items of which there may be only 1 copy 

Examples: health records, meeting minutes and agendas, letters, laws, court rulings, newspapers

Secondary Sources:

  • Created by people removed from the events and individuals they discuss
  • Draw on primary sources to reconstruct and reflect on past events and personalities
  • May also be in any format, but usually they are available in many copies and produced on a mass scale by publishers.

Examples: journal articles, encyclopedias, conference proceedings, academic books


This section of the guide provides you with a list of common primary sources on the course topic. To identify which collection of primary sources are relevant for your research topic, consider:

  • Dates: Does it cover the time period relevant to your topic?
  • Creator: Was the primary source created by an individual or group relevant to your topic?
  • Type: Does it include the kind of material (letters, laws, etc.) you need to answer your research question?

US Government Records and Related Documents

Newspapers and Bulletins

International and Subject-Based Collections