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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

FSEM 100UU : See the USA!: History of Roadtripping in American Culture: What are Primary & Secondary Resources?

Primary & Secondary Sources

"The raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study." 

Primary Sources are created during the time of study


  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Books, pamphlets, government documents
  • Diaries, letters, manuscripts, speeches, interviews, relics, artifacts
  • Maps, archival materials, creative works
  • Art, visual materials, music, sound recordings, videos


Source:  Using Primary Sources by Library of Congress.. / Image Source: Primary Source Graphic by adstarkel. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

"Accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience." 

Secondary sources are created after the fact


  • Publications (not 1st person perspective)
  • Journal articles
  • Books, textbooks
  • Histories, criticisms, commentaries
  • Reference materials, encyclopedias

Source:  Using Primary Sources by Library of Congress.. / Image Source: Secondary Source Graphic by adstarkel. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Tips for Finding Primary Sources

  • Check the bibliography and notes of your secondary sources. 
  • Watch for these terms in subject headings
    • Sources
    • Personal narratives (for first-person accounts)
    • Diaries
    • Correspondence
    • Interviews
  • Look in the library catalog for diaries, journals, memoirs by individuals, collections of the papers of notable people, and published collections of primary resources.
  • Use the Advanced Search feature in the library's catalog to refine your search.

Newspapers are often excellent primary sources.  Be sure to check the Newspaper Articles guide, authored by Emeritus Librarian Jack Bales.  

Also be sure to check the UMW History and American Studies Resources page.  

Primary vs. Secondary

The Differences:


Primary vs. Secondary