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Primary Research: Introduction to Primary Sources

Understanding the differences between primary and secondary sources, how to find primary resources, and how to conduct primary research.

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Definitions & Descriptions

Primary Sources

Primary Sources are original documents and materials created by those who participated in or were observers of the past. These sources are often recorded when events happen, giving a first-hand account of the past. They can also be recorded later, as in oral histories, memoirs, or autobiographies.

You can collect this type of research yourself as a witness to an event or your surrounding circumstances.

Primary sources provide a window to the past given by the people who lived during that period. These sources allow a researcher to get as close as possible to the event or period being studied.

Primary sources are found in archives and manuscript materials. Archives and manuscripts consist of unique collections of primary source materials typically found in only one institution. The term Archives when used in relation to documents and records refers to records created or received by an organization during the conduct of business, and provide historical, legal, and administrative evidence of the institution. These records are preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information and the evidence of the responsibilities of the creator. The term manuscripts originally referred to handwritten items, but like archives now is often used when referring to the papers of an individual or family.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources interpret information found in primary sources, whether that be information about a historical event or scientific research. They are often second-hand accounts, being a few steps removed from an event. While such sources may have primary sources in them, they often draw conclusions about and conjecture upon an event or research.

Examples include published works such as books and journal articles.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

View this presentation to get introduced to primary and secondary sources and some examples found within the David O. McKay Library.

Subject Guide

Adam Luke
225 MCK
(208) 496-9545
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