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Research Guides

HPS318 History of Medicine I: Antiquity to the Renaissance (Winter 2020)

This guide is intended to assist students in the course as it is taught by Professor Lucia Dacome with TA Andrew Jones.

Welcome to the HPS318 Research & Resources Guide

Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources


Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.

Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.

The medium of the primary source can be anything, including written texts, statistics, objects, buildings, films, paintings, cartoons, etc. What makes the source a primary source is when it was made, not what it is.

Examples of primary sources include, but are not limited to: 


A secondary source interprets and analyzes 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. 

Examples of secondary sources include:

A Word About Context... 

If you're having trouble deciding whether something's a primary source or a secondary source, ask yourself this question: Why Am I Using It? 

For example, if I'm looking at a 1994 book on HIV/AIDS, it's a secondary source if I'm using it to inform my knowledge of HIV/AIDS etiology. But, if I'm interested in how doctors and scientists were researching and writing about HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s and what this book tells me about them, it's a primary source. 

For the purposes of HPS318, another example would be a book about the history of the black death written in 1885. If you're using the book to learn more about the black death, it's a secondary source. If you're more interested in the author of the book and how people in the 1800s wrote about the history of the black death, it's a primary source.