Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. Examples of primary sources are letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents from government agencies, photographs, audio and video recordings, research data, objects, and artifacts. A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, or person. Primary sources also include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, and fieldwork. Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources.
Examples of primary source database collections are
- Congressional Publications
- Digital National Security Archive
- FBIS (Foreign Broadcast Information Service)
- World Newsreels Online
Secondary sources are works that interpret or analyze historical events or phenomena. They are accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience. One step removed from the subject, secondary sources are the result of someone else's contemplation and synthesis of primary sources. Examples of secondary sources are scholarly or popular books and journal articles, histories, criticisms, reviews, commentaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks. Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources.