Medieval & Renaissance Studies Subject Guide

Suggested Resources

How to Work with Primary Documents

What is a Primary Source?

"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."

Primary vs Secondary Sources

What is a Secondary Source?

A secondary source interprets  and anlyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes, or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include:

Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
  • A history textbook 
  • A book about the effects of WWI 

Browsing Primary Source Collections

Image Databases