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Primary Sources for Historical Study

Primary Source: First Hand, from the time the event took place

Eg. Notes, Letters, Photos, Interviews, Newspapers, Art, Film

Secondary Source: Second Hand, an analysis of events

Eg. Books, Editorials or Analysis in Newspapers, Web pages, Biographies, Dissertations, Documentary Films.


Please note, newspapers can contain both primary and secondary sources.

A newspaper article that documents events at the time they happened would be a primary source.

A newspaper article may be research-based, which makes it a secondary source, eg. an editorial or opinion piece.

Using newspapers alone can lead one to be misinformed about the time period being researched. Newspaper articles may include errors and discrepancies due to misreported events, unreliable sources, or political slants and biases.

Always check multiple source to get the full picture.

Source: University of Nebraska Kearney Lib Guide


Why Use Primary Sources?

WW1 soldier diary

Primary sources:

  • provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence of a topic
  • are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events and conditions being documented
  • are often created during the time of the event, but some are created after the fact, such as oral histories or autobiographies


Image from of page six and seven of Diary of Joseph Cecil Thompson in April 1915, taken by Ellen Thompson.

Find Primary Sources in Magazine and Newspaper Archive Databases at a Glance