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ANTD15: Frontiers of Sociocultural Anthropology: Colonial Affect

Fall 2021 - Professor Christopher Krupa

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

What are primary and secondary sources?

Primary sources are original materials or evidence. They provide first-hand accounts, testimony, or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by participants or eyewitnesses who experienced the events or conditions being documented.

Secondary sources are one step removed from the original source. They describe, summarize, analyze, evaluate, interpret, or review primary source materials.

Features of primary and secondary sources

Not sure if you're looking at a primary source? Try evaluating your source using these criteria:

Primary Source Secondary Source
  • Original, uninterpreted information
  • First-hand account of events or conditions
  • Created by participants or witnesses of the event
  • Original records created at the time of the event
  • Describes or explains a primary source
  • Contains interpretations, analysis, judgments or discussions
  • Written after the time of the event
  • Created by someone who did not witness or participate in the event

Examples of primary and secondary sources

Primary sources can be in any medium. What makes the source primary was when it was written and by whom, not what it is.

Primary Source Secondary Source
  • Artifacts
  • Artwork
  • Audio or video recordings
  • Cabinet papers
  • Certificates (e.g. birth, death)
  • Contracts
  • Court records
  • Data, statistics, and censuses
  • Diaries and letters
  • Drawings
  • Government documents
  • Interviews and speeches
  • Leases
  • Legislation and case law
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Newspaper clippings (historical)
  • Official records
  • Original manuscripts
  • Parliamentary debates
  • Petitions
  • Photographs
  • Poetry
  • Receipts
  • Songs and sheet music
  • Treaties
  • TV and radio shows
  • Biographical or historical studies
  • Critical analyses
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Journal articles
  • Newspaper or magazine articles (interpretive)
  • Reviews
  • Scholarly books or monographs
  • Second-person accounts (non-eyewitness)
  • Textbooks