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Using Primary Resources

What is a Primary Source?

A Primary Source is an original source created at a specific time of interest, it is original research, opinion, or documentation.

What is a Secondary Source?

A Secondary Source is written about a primary source. It is interpretation, discussion, or opinion about an original source.

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Source

Florence Thompson with 2 children

Florence Thompson with two of her children as part of the "Migrant Mother" series by Dorothea Lange

Secondary Source

Gordon, Linda. Dorothea Lange: The Photographer as Agricultural Sociologist. The Journal of American History, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Dec., 2006), pp. 698-727


Hurt, R. Douglas. The Dust Bowl: An Agricultural and Social History. Chicago: Nelson-Hall 1981.

Primary Source

Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech, "I Have a Dream."

Secondary Source

Alvarea, Alexander. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream": The Speech Event as Metaphor. Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Mar., 1988), pp. 337-357.

Primary Source

Coldplay's Album "Viva La Vida

Secondary Source

Hermes, Will. Vive La Difference!. Rolling Stone, June 26, 2008. Issue 1055, p73-74.

Primary Source

Kleinfield, N. R., "U.S. Attacked; Hijacked Jets Destroy Twin Towers and hit Pentagon in Day or Terror" New York Times. September 12, 2001

Secondary Source

Greene, Jacqueline Dember, The 2001 World Trade Center Attack. Bearport Publishing, 2007.

Primary Source

Ruhama Baptist Church Records

Secondary Source

Bee, Fanna K. Bee, and Lee N. Allen. Sesquicentennial History: Ruhama Baptist Church 1819 - 1969. Birmingham: Oxmoor Press, 1969.

Other Examples of Primary Resources

  • Census Records
  • City Directories
  • Maps
  • Oral Histories
  • Research Studies

Finding Primary Sources on the Web

Further Information