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HIST A302 Revolutionary America

Research guide for students in Revolutionary America

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary Sources provide direct or first-hand evidence about an event, object, person or work of art.

  • Usually contemporary to the events and people described
  • May be written and non-written
  • Examples include:
    • diaries
    • works of art and literature
    • speeches
    • audio and video recordings
    • photographs and posters
    • newspaper ads and stories
    • laws and legislative hearings
    • plant and animal specimens
    • original research studies

Secondary Sources lack the immediacy of a primary record.

  • Produced sometime after an event happened
  • Contain information that has been interpreted, analyzed or processed
  • Often based on primary sources
  • Examples:
    • history textbooks
    • interpretive journal articles
    • book reviews 

Primary Source Types (Examples)

Names for primary source types can be used for keyword searching.

anecdotes exhibitions
archives interviews
biography manuscripts
caricatures/cartoons maps
case studies photography
catalogs    portraits
comic books sketchbooks
correspondence songs/music
diaries speeches
documentary films statistics


Primary Sources: Example Searches

Use search terms for names, events, topics, or document types.

Document collections

  • feminism AND history AND sources
  • Roosevelt Franklin AND archives
  • Vietnam AND foreign relations AND sources  


  • American AND speeches
  • Douglass Frederick AND speeches
  • statesmen AND speeches 

Interviews, personal accounts, and letters

  • novelists AND correspondence
  • rap musicians AND interviews
  • working class women AND diaries 

Commercial and advertising art

  • advertising AND catalogs
  • advertising AND collectibles AND catalogs
  • commercial art AND catalogs 

Film and documentaries

  • biographical films AND Mahatma Gandhi
  • documentary films AND race relations
  • documentary films AND sports

Search Tips for Primary Sources

1. Choose a relevant database or digital collection to search. 

2. Enter relevant keywords.

3. If possible, limit search by publication date and format (e.g., book reviews, photographs).
(Many databases have this option.)

4. Consult a librarian for recommended databases and resources.

Web Resources: