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History: Primary vs Secondary Sources

The purpose of this guide is to help you get the most out of Greenwood Library's resources for research in history.

For an overview of the difference between Primary and Secondary sources in historical research, please watch this 8 minute video.

History Skills. "Primary and Secondary Sources in History Explained." September 21, 2018. YouTube video,

What is a Primary Resource?

Primary sources are original, first-hand accounts. Secondary sources provide some analysis or interpretation of primary resources. Example:

Primary vs. Secondary sources

Credit for graphic:

You can often find primary sources online that have been digitized, and we have several books and databases that will help:

How to Find Primary Sources in the Library Catalog

Click here to locate primary sources within the library's catalog:

  1. Click the link and enter the type of source you are looking for, e.g., "diaries."
  2. The link will open a catalog screen.  In the search box, after "d:(diaries)," type "AND" and a term to narrow your search.  Names of people or broad subject terms work best, e.g., "d:(diaries) AND civil war" (see below).
  3. Click Search.  The resulting list of items should include books that provide primary sources for your topic.