Historians distinguish between primary vs. secondary sources.
"Secondary" is fairly straightforward to define: what historians write about past phenomena. The best known examples are books and journal articles. Other formats can include papers in edited volumes, chapters, dissertations, and more.
"Primary" sources however take many forms--correspondence, diaries, personal narratives, official public records, news reports, advertisements... Primary sources are usually contemporary with the past phenomena under study.
It is important to remember that primary sources may be reproduced and published much later. Even if you are looking at a copy, it is still a primary source.
Examples of Primary Sources
To help you recognize them, some examples:
A direct, contemporary account:
Via Diplomatic Pouch (1944) by Douglas Miller (American commercial attache in Berlin, 1931-1937)
As I See It (1944) by Stephen S. Wise (Jewish writer on Hitler and Zionism)
British Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee: Final Report (1945) on German wartime industrial technologies
Official or public documents published later:
Landmark Speeches of National Socialism (2008)
Nazism 1919-1945: a Documentary Reader (1998)
First-person accounts published later:
German Voices: Memories of Life During Hitler's Third Reich (2011)
Reluctant Accomplice: a Wehrmacht Soldier's Letters from the
Eastern Front (2010)
What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany: an
Oral History (2005)
Crossing Over: an Oral History of Refugees from Hitler's Reich (1996)
For help finding resources please see Karyn.
In getting started, why would you need a reference book when you could just use "Google" or head for Wikipedia?
The titles in this box are authoritative, informative, and concise. Of the three, authoritative counts the most.
Recent Secondary Sources at the Charlton Library
Thanks to the Sheaffer Library staff at Union College for links, content, and organizational inspiration.