Skip to Main Content
Link to Clark Family Library

FYS 199-06 Death (Wolf) Fall 2023

Primary Sources for Art 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


For example:

In the study of Art and Visual Culture Secondary Sources are published materials such as books, journals and newspapers, press releases, and authoritative web sites. Secondary sources are generally collected by libraries and are inventoried in catalogs such as the Library Catalog. Catalog content may be limited to simple citations (directing you a physical object such as a book) or it may be fully integrated with digital content such as databases or full-text journals.


Primary sources are the artworks themselves (including maps!) and unpublished materials such as letters and memos, draft documents, internal reports, technical drawings, and other forms of direct production (moving images, sound recordings, transcripts, photographs). Primary source materials are generally collected by archives and inventoried in finding aids. 

To discover archival collections, consult ArchiveGrid, a database of primary-source collection finding aids. Archival collections and finding aids are also readily discoverable through Google searches.


Source: MoMA Library