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Primary Sources in History - Titusville Campus: Primary vs. Secondary

Designed to assist History students distinguish between Primary and Secondary Sources

Examples of Primary & Secondary ebooks in pittcat+

Get a feel for the difference between primary and seconday sources by clicking on the pittcat+ ebook links below and then clicking on the Web access link on the next screen that appears.

Focusing Your Topic

When you first start thinking about your paper, it is fine to think of a very general and broad topic. As you begin your research, you'll want to narrow down your topic.  When you think about focusing on a topic try to think of these things:

A specific group of people

A specific timespan

A specific event

A specific place

A topic like "History of African Americans" is much too broad. You can focus it by looking at the following:


A specific timespan:             1940's

A specific event:                    During WWII

A specific place:                    Western Europe

A specific group of people:  African American Soldiers


So we went from a generic topic, "History of African Americans" to a more specified topic of "African American soldiers stationed in Western Europe during WWII."

Differences Between Primary & Secondary Sources

Knowing the differences between primary and secondary sources is very important when researching, regardless of what field of study is being researched. The basic difference between these two types of sources is the degree to which the author/creator of an item is removed from the actual event/creation.

Primary sources

♦ Are original documents and contemporary accounts of an event written by either someone who experienced the event or someone who witnessed the event.

♦ Are anything that has been stated/created by someone but not interpreted by others.

♦ Include diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, autobiographies, memoirs,  court cases, official records, debates, community meetings, surveys, observations, research studies about experiments, news film footage, audio and video recordings, poems, plays, novels, short stories, music, art, photographs, pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings, etc.

Secondary sources

♦ Are sources written about primary sources that analyze, interpret, and discuss the primary source.

♦ Write and talk about a primary source.

♦ Include journal articles, books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, reviews, newspaper articles, essays, magazines, textbooks, histories, criticisms, commentaries, CD-ROMs, videotapes, television shows, radio shows, conference proceedings, etc.

How to Search PITTCat+ for Primary Sources

PITTCat+ can be searched to directly find primary sources. Enter the keyword(s) for your topic and add one of the words listed below after the keyword:

     • diaries

     • letters

      • speeches

      • documents

      • sources

      • correspondence

      • charters

      • early works

      • interviews

      • manuscripts

      • oratory

      • pamphlets

      • personal narratives

These words will help to identify a source as primary when searching PITTCat+.

Subject Guide

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Marc Ross