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Finding Primary Sources: Home

Assistance with locating primary source material within and outside the WSU Libraries.

What Are Primary Sources? What are Secondary Sources?

Primary sources are the evidence of history.  They are the first-hand accounts of an event or period of time created by participants or observers.  There are many kinds of primary sources including texts (letters, diaries, government reports, newspaper accounts, autobiographies), images (photographs, paintings, advertisements, posters), artifacts (buildings, clothing, sculpture, coins) and audio/visual (songs, oral history interviews, documentaries).

Secondary sources interpret or summarize an event or time period.  They provide analysis of a topic by those who have studied and written about it.  Examples of secondary sources are scholarly articles, books, and documentaries.  There are also tertiary sources consisting of reference resources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks.  These can provide background and definition.

The tabs above this box link to pages with information on how to find specific types of primary and secondary sources.  See below for examples that distinguish between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Primary and secondary sources--example

Topic:   French colonialism in Indochina (1887-1954)

Primary sources:  Tuck, Patrick J. N., and University of Liverpool. Department of History. French Catholic Missionaries and the Politics of Imperialism in Vietnam, 1857-1914 : A Documentary Survey. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 1987. Print. (book containing contemporary sources)

"The Defence of a French Stronghold in Indo-China."  The Times  (London, England), Friday, Jan 29, 1954; pg. 14; Issue 52842. (Newspaper article about the battle at Dien Bien Phu)

Secondary sources:   McLeod, Mark W. The Vietnamese Response to French Intervention, 1862-1874. New York: Praeger, 1991. Print. Holland/Terrell Libraries Stacks DS556.8 .M39 1991  (book)

Garner, Reuben. "The French In Indochina: Some Impressions Of The Colonial Inspectors, 1867-1913." Southeast Asia: An International Quarterly 3.3 (1974): 831-840. Historical Abstracts. Web. (journal article)

Tertiary source:  "French Imperialism in Southeast Asia." World History Encyclopedia. Vol. 15: Era 7: The Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011. 586-587. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.  (encyclopedia entry) 

Primary and secondary sources--example

Topic:  Wounded Knee Massacre (Dec. 29, 1890)

Primary sources:  Gonzalez, Mario, and Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. The Politics of Hallowed Ground : Wounded Knee and the Struggle for Indian Sovereignty. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1999. Print. (book; includes diaries and chronicles, written testimony, and Senate hearing)

Royer, D. F. 1890. Letter and list [manuscript]: 1890. Available through: American Indian Histories and Cultures  (digital collection) Adam Matthew, Marlborough, [Accessed June 28, 2016]. (letter by U.S. Indian agent at the Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota, appointed in Oct., 1890, and relieved of his duties following the Battle of Wounded Knee, Dec. 29, 1890.)

Secondary sources:  Rhine, Gary., et al., Left Hand Bull, Kifaru Productions, and Eagle Heart Productions. Wiping the Tears of Seven Generations. San Francisco, CA: Kifaru Productions, 1992. Native American Relations Video. (documentary)

Grua, D. W. "In Memory Of The Chief Big Foot Massacre": The Wounded Knee Survivors And The Politics Of Memory." Western Historical Quarterly 46.1 (2015): 31-51. America: History & Life. Web.  (journal article)

Tertiary source:  Ostler, Jeffrey. "Wounded Knee." Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. Ed. Dinah L. Shelton. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 1166-1168. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.

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