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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.

How to Find Primary Sources

A good first step for finding primary sources is to check the bibliographies of secondary sources to see which primary sources they cite. Then, you can search for those specific primary sources yourself.

There are many different ways to find primary sources. Here are some suggestions:

  • Look in Quest for diaries, journals, memoirs, collections of the papers of notable people, and published collections of primary sources. Try using these words in your Quest searches:
    • Sources
    • Personal narratives
    • Diaries
    • Correspondence
    • Interviews
    • Speeches
    • Facsimiles
  • Newspapers and magazines are often used as primary sources. Several historical newspapers are available in the library databases, and many older newspapers have entered the public domain and are freely available online. To find newspapers, see the Newspaper Articles guide. To find magazines, see the Magazines and Advertisements guide.

More suggestions are below. For additional advice, see the UMW History and American Studies Resources page.

Primary vs. Secondary

The Differences:


Primary vs. Secondary