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 and I witnessed something myself 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?

Example #1 Roman Coins

Roman coins made by the Romans in AD 45. Actual coins from museum.

Who made it? The Romans in AD 45

Who used it? The Romans

Example #2 Painting

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci in 1506. Painting in the Louvre.

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 a long, long time ago.

Example #3 Book about the Tudors, a family who ruled England in the 1500s. The book was written in 1999.

Book About the Tudors in 1999

What is it? A book about the Tudors who lived during the 1500s.

What is it for? It is for people to read/learn about the Tudors.

When was it written? It was written in 1999, but it is about people who lived in the 1500s.

Example 4: The Magna Carta

Part of original Magna Carta 1215. Photo from a library that houses the Magna Carta.

When was it made? It was made in 1215.

When was it used? It was used in 1215 to force King John to grant concessions to the barons.

When does it show? It shows the feelings of the barons in 1215.

Example #5: A mug made in 2015

A mug made in 2015

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.


Created with images by stevepb - "light lamp bedside lamp"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.