Primary and Secondary Sources What's the difference?

Historical Sources tell us something about history. There are two main types of historical sources: primary and secondary sources.

A primary source comes from the past. It is an original object or document; first-hand information. Primary source is material written or produced in the time period that you may be investigating. Primary sources allow the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.

If I tell you something I am the primary source.

Secondary sources are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. They are NOT evidence but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence. Consider secondary sources as second-hand information.

If you tell someone else what I told you, you are the secondary source.

Secondary sources can be articles in newspapers, magazines, books or articles found that evaluate or criticize someone else's original research.

For example: A Roman coin made by the Romans is a Primary Source, but a drawing of a Roman coin made in 2003 would be a Secondary Source.

Questions to ask of a source:

Who? For example: Who made it? Who used it? Who is in the picture? Whose opinion does it show?

Where? For example: Where is it? Where was it made? Where was it Used?

What? For example: What is it? What is it for? What does it say? What was it used for? What does it show?

How? For example? How was it made? How was it used? How has it survived?

Why? Why was it made? Why has it survived?

Example #1 Roman Coins

Roman coins made by the Romans in AD 45

Who made it? The Romans in AD 45

Who used it? The Romans

Who is in the picture? The head on the coins show who was emperor.

Example #2 Painting

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci in 1506

Where is it? It is located in the Louvre art gallery, Paris.

Where was it? It was in Italy. It is now in the Louvre in Paris.

Where was it made? It was made in Italy by Leonardo da Vinci.

Where was it used? It was used to hang on a wall for decoration.

Example #3 Movie Poster from Harry Potter for original release date 2002

Chamber of Secrets original movie poster

What is it? A movie poster for Harry Potter

What is it for? It was used to advertise the movie in 2002.

What was it used for? It was used for advertisement.

What does it show? It shows the actors from the movie and movie information.

Example 4: 1912 Titanic Passenger List

1912 Titanic Passenger List

When was it made? It was made in 1912.

When was it used? It was used in 1912 to show the passengers aboard the Titanic.

When does it show? It shows the names of the Titanic's passengers.

Example #5: A mug made in 2015

A mug made in 2015

How was it made? It was made in a factory--check the bottom for a stamp indicating details of the factory or potter.

How was it used? It was/is used for people to drink hot beverages from.

How has it survived? It has survived because it was made not that long ago.

Example #6: A poster of a Van Gogh painting made in 2006

Poster of 2006 Gogh Painting

Why was it made? Because people like Van Gogh paintings and because there is only one original painting; posters like this enable many people to see art.

Why has it survived? It has survived because it isn't too terribly old and has been well preserved.

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