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United States History

Primary Sources by Century

Most of the websites linked on the following pages contain primary source materials. Use the menu to the left to navigate these timeline sections of the guide.

  • Early America up to the 18th Century (xxxx-1799)

  • The 19th Century (1800-1899)

  • The 20th Century (1900-1999)

  • The 21st Century (2000 - present)

What is a Primary Source?

  • Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence
    created by participants or observers of a historical event or time period.
  • Often, these materials are created at the time when the events or conditions occurred.
    However, primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs and oral histories that are written or recorded later.
  • Primary sources are characterized by their content, not their format.  Therefore, primary sources can be found:
    -  in their original form (the actual paper copy of the Declaration of Independence)
    -  published books (the Declaration of Independence reprinted in a book)
    -  in some type of digital form (the Declaration of Independence on a website).
  • Note: In the Humanities field, "primary sources" often mean the original text of the literature that is being scrutinized.
    In the Science field, "primary sources" often mean the original scholarly journal article in which a particular scientific study was published.
The following types of materials are generally considered primary sources:
  • Diaries or journals
  • Letters or other manuscripts
  • Speeches, interviews and oral histories
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Video or motion picture recordings
  • Published materials from that time period (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
  • Government documents (census records, laws, court decisions)
  • Political cartoons
  • Original documents produced in association with the event (pamphlets, menus...etc.)
  • Objects and artifacts (bumper stickers, buttons from political elections...etc.)

What is a Secondary Source?

  • Secondary sources are publications about the event and are written or produced by groups or individuals not involved directly with the event.
  • They can be articles, books, or biographies connected with the event.
  • They are usually written by outside experts who have researched the event and its aftermath and who are reexamining, interpreting and forming their own conclusions.

The following types of materials are generally considered primary sources:

  • Encylcopedia articles
  • Books or articles about historical event that are written after the event occurs
  • Biographies

Primary and Secondary Sources: A Tutorial

While this tutorial isn't specifically about research articles, it is helpful to first understand what is meant by primary, and what is meant by secondary types of information. This helps us understand a little more about what we mean by primary or original research, and what is meant by review research.

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