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History of Higher Education

A guide to support the EDHE 5300 Course

Understanding Primary Versus Secondary Sources


Primary sources are original accounts or records of historical events. These sources are from the period involved, and they have not been filtered through interpretation. Primary sources include:

  • Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, correspondence
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Government records, such as birth, death and marriage certificates, census records, licenses, patents, trial transcripts, etc.
  • Records of organizations, i.e., minutes, reports or correspondence
  • Original Documents (e.g. family Bible records)
  • Photographs, documentaries, sound recordings of actual events
  • Survey Research such as market surveys and public opinion polls

Note: Newspaper, magazine, and journal articles and books were written at the time about a particular event are often considered primary sources. These accounts were usually written by journalists or other observers at the time of the event. Materials that are written later and/or provide historical analysis are considered secondary sources.

Northeast Document Conservation Center

"Historic document" by Northeast Document Conservation Center is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.