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Research Guides

Locating & Accessing Primary Documents: Secondary Sources

Find and Access primary resources from U.S. Government websites, Bush Library Databases and HamCAT.

Secondary Sources Description

Secondary Sources

A secondary source interprets or analyzes a historical event or phenomenon.  It is generally at least one step removed from the event. An article evaluating and analyzing the relationship between the feminist movement and the labor movement in turn-of-the-century England is an example of a secondary source. If you were to look at the bibliography of this article you would probably see the author's research was based on both primary sources such as labor union documents, speeches and personal letters as well as other secondary sources. Textbooks and encyclopedias also are examples of secondary sources. 

Many of Bush library’s resources incorporate both Primary and Secondary Resources.  For example: the Bush Library catalog, HamCAT, will have thousands of both primary and secondary resources. The following Research Databases, such as: Academic Search Premier, MasterFile Premier, Historical Minneapolis Tribune, Historical New York Times, and Historical Abstracts with Full Text, provide a wealth of authoritative primary and secondary resources. You can search many of these databases for just primary documents, by designating the Publication Type as Primary Source Document.

Secondary sources offer an analysis or a restatement of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources.  Some secondary sources not only analyze primary sources, but use them to argue a point of view or to persuade the reader to hold a certain opinion.

Examples of secondary sources include: dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, books, magazine articles, etc. Many of the articles from these resources interpret or review research works.

Examples of primary and secondary sources:

  Primary Source Secondary Source
Art Original artwork or photograph Article critiquing the piece of art
History Slave diary, artifacts, interview with an eyewitness Book about the Underground Railroad
Literature Poem Treatise on a particular genre of poetry
Political Science A treaty, speech or piece of legislation Essay on Native American Land Rights
Theatre Videotape of a performance, the actual script, or a review of the play by a critic in attendance. Biography of the playwright