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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

History Day Research

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Primary vs. Secondary Sources

So you need primary and secondary sources, but what does that mean?

Primary Sources

Primary sources are materials directly from the historic event or time. They provide first-hand accounts of history. This includes materials written or produced in the time period you are studying, eyewitness accounts, documents related to specific events, and later recollections by participants in historic events. Examples include:

  • diaries
  • correspondence
  • governments documents
  • photographs
  • autobiographies
  • newspapers from the era
  • archives collections
  • oral interviews, etc.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are books, articles, websites, and other published materials where an author presents an interpretation of an event based on primary sources. The writer is not an eyewitness to, or a participant in, the historic event. Examples include:

  • encyclopedias
  • history textbooks
  • general subject histories
  • general subject websites

Secondary Sources are useful for gaining a general understanding of an event, person, etc. and can lead you to primary sources.

Information from: Hoogland, Tim and Kurt Kortenhof, Introducing National History Day, St. Paul Minnesota Historical Society, 2002. Introducing National History Day Accessed February 3, 2003.