by Evan Rusch
Last Updated Sep 19, 2022
2567 views this year
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
So you need primary and secondary sources, but what does that mean?
Primary sources are materials directly from the historic event or time. They provide first-hand accounts of history. This includes materials written or produced in the time period you are studying, eyewitness accounts, documents related to specific events, and later recollections by participants in historic events. Examples include:
newspapers from the era
oral interviews, etc.
Secondary sources are books, articles, websites, and other published materials where an author presents an interpretation of an event based on primary sources. The writer is not an eyewitness to, or a participant in, the historic event. Examples include:
general subject histories
general subject websites
Secondary Sources are useful for gaining a general understanding of an event, person, etc. and can lead you to primary sources.
Information from: Hoogland, Tim and Kurt Kortenhof, Introducing National History Day, St. Paul Minnesota Historical Society, 2002. Introducing National History Day Accessed February 3, 2003.
Find Primary Sources for Most United States History Topics
Library Services provides access to many primary sources for United States history topics. In addition to the resources below, please check MavScholar for books and archival material available within Memorial Library.
A one-of-a-kind record of African American history, culture, and daily life. Covers life in the Antebellum period through the Civil Rights movement and more. Provides access to: Series 1, 1827-1998 and Series 2, 1835-1956. Access is limited to currently enrolled students, faculty, library staff, and visiting scholars, as well as walk-in patrons while they are on-site.
American Indian Newspapers provides digital access to North American Indigenous journalism from a range of communities, historic presses, and contemporary periodicals spanning two centuries from 1828-2016.
Provides citations, abstracts, and full text to articles from over 240 "newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority and native press....With an unequaled collection of articles, editorials and reviews from a broad diversity of perspectives, Ethnic NewsWatch is a valuable interdisciplinary resource. It provides information and opinions, often on topics never covered in mainstream publications, sometimes mirroring mainstream coverage, but with different and unique viewpoints."
Provides full text newspaper articles from many states and countries as well as news transcripts, which are mostly from major American news sources. Also provides citations and selected full text to legal materials, including federal code and regulations, state codes, tax law, and state and federal case law.
Users can study the progression of events over time by browsing full-text, full-image issues of the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 1867-2001. Includes news articles, photos, advertisements, classified ads, obituaries, cartoons, and more.
Daily newspaper. Full text coverage from Feb 17, 1997 to present. Indexed back to Jan 2, 1989. *This resource is provided by the Electronic Library of Minnesota, freely accessible to anyone in Minnesota!*
Comprehensive coverage back to 1987 is available for one of America's most respected newspapers. The Washington Post is well known for not only in-depth news and analysis of American politics but also insightful coverage of national and international trends and events. The paper's popularity is evinced by the fact that it is read by more than a million people worldwide. *This resource is provided by the Electronic Library of Minnesota, freely accessible to anyone in Minnesota!*
Digitized images from the American Antiquarian Society of the pages of American magazines and journals. Series 1 presents titles dating from 1693 through 1820. *This resource is provided by the Electronic Library of Minnesota, freely accessible to anyone in Minnesota!*
Digitized images from the American Antiquarian Society of the pages of American magazines and journals. Series 2 presents over 1000 titles dating from 1821 through 1837. *This resource is provided by the Electronic Library of Minnesota, freely accessible to anyone in Minnesota!*
Digitized images from the American Antiquarian Society of the pages of American magazines and journals. Series 3 presents over 1,700 titles dating from 1838 through 1852. *This resource is provided by the Electronic Library of Minnesota, freely accessible to anyone in Minnesota!*
Digitized images from the American Antiquarian Society of the pages of American magazines and journals. Series 4 presents over 1,100 titles dating from 1853 through 1865. *This resource is provided by the Electronic Library of Minnesota, freely accessible to anyone in Minnesota!*
Digitized images from the American Antiquarian Society of the pages of American magazines and journals. Series 5 presents over 2,500 titles dating from 1866 through 1877. *This resource is provided by the Electronic Library of Minnesota, freely accessible to anyone in Minnesota!*
American Periodicals Series Online™ (APS Online) includes digitized images of the pages of American magazines and journals published from colonial days to the dawn of the 20th century. Titles range from Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine and America's first scientific journal, Medical Repository; popular magazines such as Vanity Fair and Ladies' Home Journal; regional and niche publications; and groundbreaking journals like The Dial, Puck, and McClure's.
Provides full image articles from Harper's Weekly during Civil War years. See also websites documenting historical controversies compiled from 50 years of Harper's Weekly editorials, articles, news briefs, cartoons, illustrations, poetry, and advertisements.
A searchable archive of leading women's interest magazines, dating from the 19th century through the 21st. The included publications cover topics such as family life, home economics, health, careers, fashion, culture, and more. This material serves multiple research areas from gender studies, social history, the arts, education, politics, and marketing/media history.
Presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents, covering a broad range of topics from the Middle Ages forward-from Witchcraft to World War II to twentieth-century political history.
This resource consists of declassified government documents covering U.S. policy toward critical world events - including their military, intelligence, diplomatic and human rights dimensions - from 1945 to the present. The collections are curated and indexed and feature chronologies, glossaries, bibliographies, and scholarly overviews.
The database contains more than 32,000 entries and is a comprehensive guide to printed records about the Americas written in Europe before 1750. It covers the history of European exploration as well as portrayals of Native American peoples. A wide range of subject areas are covered; from natural disasters to disease outbreaks and slavery.
Gale Primary Sources allows unified searching of Gale primary source collections including: Archives Unbound, British Library Newspapers, The Sunday Times Digital Archive, The Times Digital Archive, Indigenous Peoples of North America and Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive.
During World War II and the first decade and a half of the Cold War, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the State Department assigned leading scholars to write special, classified reports about Asia, Europe, the Soviet Union, Latin America, and Africa. At the time, the reports helped to shape U.S. foreign policy decisions, and, now, as part of History Vault, the over 3,500 reports in this module provide an excellent source for studying the major areas of the World during the period from 1941 to 1961.
Provides users with a source to research and increase understanding of the historical experiences, cultural traditions and innovations, and political status of Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada.
Includes collections on the transatlantic slave trade, the global movement for the abolition of slavery, and the legal, personal, and economic aspects of the slavery system from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century.
The U.S. Serial Set, a full-text collection of U.S. Government publications compiled under the directive of Congress, includes Congressional reports and documents, executive agency and departmental reports ordered to be printed by Congress, the American State Papers, as well as maps, illustrations, photos, and lithographs.
For more than 40 years, Historic Documents has made primary source research easy by presenting excerpts from documents on the important events of each year for the United States and the world. Each volume includes approximately 70 events with well over 100 documents from the previous year, from official or other influential reports and surveys, to speeches from leaders and opinion makers, to court cases, legislation, testimony, and much more. Full-source citations are provided. Readers have easy access to material through a detailed, thematic table of contents and a cumulative five-year index that directs them to related material in earlier volumes. This page contains the most recent and past editions of Historic Documents.
Provides full text reports that comprise "in-depth, non-biased coverage of political and social issues, with regular reports on topics in health, international affairs, education, the environment, technology and the U.S. economy. Each report is investigated and written by a seasoned journalist...sections include a background and chronology; an assessment of the current situation; tables and maps; pro/con statements from representatives of opposing positions; and bibliographies of key sources.
Provides full text ethnographic information on all aspects of cultural and social life (e.g., religious beliefs, raising children, causes and cures of diseases, economics, politics) for numerous cultures. Note: a print collection, which includes unique information, is available on the second floor of the library near the oversized books.
The Rand Corporation is a public policy research institution. Their research focuses on a wide range of policy issues including national security, transportation and infrastructure, international affairs, workforce and labor issues, education, public safety, environmental issues, and health care. Many of Rand's research reports and issue briefs are available full text in this database. Information on older research reports is included and can be ordered through interlibrary loan.
The Serial Set is a collection of historical documents from the US Congress. We have Microcard set from 1817-1933 then in print from 1970-the late 1990s. Use the CIS Serial Set Index to identify documents and then contact Evan. If you need between 1934-1969 we can try searching the HathiTrust or use Interlibrary Loan.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database comprises nearly 35,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866. Records of the voyages have been found in archives and libraries throughout the Atlantic world. They provide information about vessels, enslaved peoples, slave traders and owners, and trading routes. A variable (Source) cites the records for each voyage in the database. Other variables enable users to search for information about a particular voyage or group of voyages. The website provides full interactive capability to analyze the data and report results in the form of statistical tables, graphs, maps, or on a timeline.