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United States History Research Guide

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

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.

A comprehensive guide to HOW TO READ A PRIMARY SOURCE and on ANALYZING DOCUMENTS can be found here:

Primary Source Databases

Emory University makes a good deal of primary sources available to students in a digital format. To see the complete list of digitized primary source databases available to students, click here

Below you will find a select list of databases that are particularly appropriate for your coursework. This list is not exhaustive.

Primary Sources by Subject

African American History

A guide to primary source collections for African American history.

Women's History

 A guide to primary source collections for women's history.

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