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Shepard Library Orientation: Primary Sources

A guide to using Shepard Library and its resources, aimed at first year and transfer students.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

A primary source is an account of an event from someone who was actually there, written at the time of the event, or written as a recollection at a later date.


Diaries, letters, autobiographies, speeches, plays, works of art, interviews, original research, historical newspapers

How are primary sources used?
To create discussion
To gain a sense of historical perspective
To back up (or dispute) claims


Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources are written by observers after an event, and analyze primary sources/events
Person did not participate/was not present for event they are analyzing.


Essays, textbooks, books that analyze multiple primary sources

How are secondary sources used?
For background information
To See what has been previously discussed by others
Look at the event in relation to the big picture
To gain a better understanding of events, literature, and art