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CLAB05/HISB10: History and Culture of the Greek World

Definitions & Examples

What are Primary and Secondary Sources?


Primary sources are:

  • first hand accounts of an event
  • materials created by participants or witnesses of the event(s) under study
  • original records created at the time the historical events occurred
  • raw data for the historian

Secondary sources are:

  • works that discuss a subject, but which are written after the time that the event(s) occurred (by someone other than an eyewitness)
  • works that contain explanations/judgements/discussions of past events
  • works that explain or interpret primary sources

What Are Some Examples of Primary Sources?


Official records: cabinet papers diplomatic dispatches
laws parish records
parliamentary debates ambassador's reports
Published sources: newspapers speeches
works of art, photographs
songs, hymns
Private sources:

contracts (marriage, purchase,
work etc)

birth certificates

receipts, leases, loans
death certificates


Visit the "How to Find Primary Sources" page for more information.

Adapted from Memorial University Libraries

Tips and Tricks

Quick Info

Q: What is a primary source?

A: A primary source is a document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic. 

Q: How do I find primary sources?

A: Visit the "How to Find Primary Sources" page for detailed information.

Library Catalogue: Search Tips

Search by subject (here the search term is 'ptolemaic egypt') and refine by genre:

Genres such as 'papyri' and 'sources' identify primary sources.

Video Tutorial

Why use...

... Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

Primary sources provide the opportunity to witness a piece of history up close, and to see it through the eyes of those who lived it.

First-hand accounts of an historic event allow you to form reasoned conclusions, base conclusions on evidence, and connect primary sources to the context in which they were created, synthesizing information from multiple sources.

... Secondary Sources?

Secondary sources complement primary sources: a secondary source can bring clarification and deeper understanding to a primary source.

A historian who has expertise in a specific time period can provide contextual information through a secondary source that allows a student to maximize his/her appreciation of the primary source's value.

Adapted from the Library of Congress, "Using Primary Sources"