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Primary vs. Secondary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary Sources hand written letter from 1822

Secondary Sources Article entitled "America's First Slave Revolt:  Indians and African Slaves in EspaƱola, 1500-1534"

Provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence                     Gather, interpret, and analyze primary sources
  • diaries or correspondence
  • autobiographies and oral histories
  • photographs and illustrations
  • newspaper articles reporting an event
  • manuscripts
  • pamphlets, broadsides, or other ephemera
  • census data
  • A history textbook
  • An encyclopedia article on immigration
  • A scholarly article on healthcare reform
  • A magazine article using census data to describe San Francisco
  • A newspapers articles synthesizing information about school funding

Primary Sources Collections


  • Artstor  thousands of high-resolution photographs, art pieces, and other images
  • Films on Demand  films on all topics


Try these keywords:  sources, diaries, oral history, autobiograpy, memoir, personal narratives, correspondence.

Digital Collections

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Primary sources on California History

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Primary sources from across the U.S.

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Documents from the National Archives

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Primary sources from libraries & museums across the U.S.