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CLAS 051H: Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Source (aka Original Source)

What are primary sources?  They are often referred to as "first hand" accounts or "original" records.  Primary sources are the evidence historians use to build interpretations of the past. Primary sources also refer to original works of art, including plays and fiction.  Most primary sources are created at the time an historical event occurred, while others, such as autobiographies, are produced long after the events they describe. Among the many types of materials that may be primary sources are: letters, diaries, speeches, newspaper articles, autobiographies, oral histories, government and organizational records, statistical data, maps, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings, advertisements, and artifacts.

Secondary Source (aka Secondary Analysis)

A secondary source gives information about or analysis of a primary source.  In academia, these secondary sources are usually published in books, edited volumes, or scholarly journals.  One of the main characteristics of scholarly journals is the process of peer review. Research articles under consideration for publication in a scholarly journal are sent to experts in the subject field (peers) for evaluation and comment (review).

This Peer Review in 3 Minutes video tutorial created by North Carolina State University covers: how peer-reviewed articles are different from other types of publications; how peer-reviewed articles are tied to teaching and learning activities on college campuses; and where to go for help in finding peer-reviewed articles.

Open Access publishing is a movement that makes scholarly content available free of charge. The UNC Libraries support open access, open archives, and open repositories as methods to encourage the widest possible access to scholarly content.