WHAT IS A PRIMARY SOURCE vs. SECONDARY SOURCE
Historians make distinctions between what they call primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are firsthand accounts of events, recorded or produced by witnesses or recorders who were present at the time of the event or experienced the conditions bieng documented. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original, microfilm/microfiche, digital format, or published format. Historians carefully read and evaluate primary sources to make decisions about how and why things happened as they did.
A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. It is generally at least one-step removed from the event. Examples include scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, and textbooks.
EXAMPLES OF PRIMARY SOURCES FOR THE STUDY OF COLONIAL LATIN AMERICA:
Guaman Poma, Nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615), The Guaman Poma Website hosted by Det Kongelige Bibliotek
Ecclesiastical documents: Church records, baptismal and burial registers; accounts of the establishment and administration of missions; descriptions of religious practices of Native peoples; missionary and land-owning activities of the Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican orders; Inquisition proceedings and correspondence.
Legal documents: land titles; wills and testaments; powers of attorney; judicial petitions and proceedings; crimal cases; genealogies to establish purity of bloodlines, nobility, or right of inheritance.
Colonial administrative papers: reports of viceroys and governors; cedulas, directives from the Spanish king; official correspondence; mercedes, or land grants; treasury and tax records; military reports; population statistics; commerce and smuggling reports.
Travel literature: journals and letters from explorations; reports on discoveries to the viceroys and king; maps
Visual Materials: original art including but not limited to paintings, drawings, sculpture, architectural drawings and plans; manuscript music scores; musical instruments; sheet music.
EXAMPLES OF PRIMARY SOURCES FOR THE STUDY OF MODERN LATIN AMERICA:
Tribunal permanente de los pueblos, poster, Peru (1990) from New Mexico's Digital Collections, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.
Government documents: the hearings and debates of legislative bodies; the official text of laws, regulations and treaties; records of government expenditures and finances; statistical compilations such as census data; investigative reports; scientific data.
Printed or Published Texts: books and pamphlets.
Legal Documents: contracts, police reports, judicial proceeding and petitions, criminal cases.
Personal documents: autobiographies, memoirs, correspondence, diaries.
Serials: newspapers, magazines; journals.
Travel and personal literature: journals and letters from explorations; diaries; memoirs; correspondence; maps
Visual Materials: Original art, including but not limited to paintings, drawings, sculpture, architectural drawings and plans, and monoprints; Prints; Graphic arts, including materials such as posters, trade cards, and computer generated graphics; photographs; film and video
Oral history: Oral history interviews and video memoirs
A comprehensive guide to HOW TO READ A PRIMARY SOURCE can be found here: