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History 10: Research Paper Sources  

Last Updated: May 6, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates
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Primary sources are documents, artifacts, and ephemera from the time being studied or analyzed. They are created by individuals who experienced the events or conditions being documented or were created at the time. Primary sources can include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories, which may have been recorded after the fact. Analyzing primary sources is the heart of the historian's craft as they allow historians and scholars to get as close as possible to the people and events of the past.

In short:

  • MAYBE for context
  • NO for background
  • NO for pointing to other, better sources
  • YES for citing
  • YES for analyzing


Primary sources can be found in any number of formats. Compilations such as Our Nation's Archive, a book collecting significant documents from American history, are common; museums and online collections are are also common. Primary sources can also be found within secondary sources. Primary sources do not contain synthesis or analysis; they just are, and it is up to the student of history to provide the analysis.

In addition to the sources below, please consult the library catalog to find text resources in the library collection.

  • Library of Congress  Icon
    The Library of Congress has digitized many of their incredible holdings. The Teacher page provides easy access to several collections of primary sources. Searching within the collections will be necessary; see Karyn if you need assistance.
  • Smithsonian Source  Icon
    Created by teachers drawing on the wealth of material at the Smithsonian Museum collections, this curated collection of primary sources was designed for elementary through high school learners to use.
  • The Gilder-Lehrman Collection
    THE Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the teaching of American History. To access the primary source materials, you will need to sign up for a free account using your school email.
  • US History in Context  Icon
    This history site contains primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Limit to primary sources, maps, recordings, or images for primary source materials.
  • American Government  Icon
    Available via NYPL (barcode and pin numbers required for access). Secondary and primary source documents from the government, including perspectives, analysis, and original documents.
  • American Periodicals  Icon
    Available via NYPL (barcode and PIN numbers required for access). Magazines, journals, and newspapers published between 1740 and 1940, including special interest, general magazines, literary and professional journals, children's and women's magazines, and many other significant titles.
  • EdSitement  Icon
    From the National Endowment for the Humanities, a rich resources for all humanities studies.
  • Digital History  Icon
    Amazing resource clearinghouse.

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Secondary sources (usually articles or books) analyze, annotate, and review information from primary sources and other secondary sources. Secondary sources are the conversation scholars engage in with history and with each other. Secondary sources are a critical respoitory of information and often discuss findings from primary sources that cannot be accessed elsewhere.


In short:

  • YES for context
  • YES for background
  • YES for pointing to other, better sources
  • YES for citing
  • YES for analyzing


Secondary sources are any work that has been completed based on a study of primary sources and/or other secondary sources. Secondary sources include analysis, evaluation, and discussion of those sources and the person/event/time under discussion. Secondary sources include citations and original conclusions, and should always be cited.

  • Academic OneFile  
    This collection of peer-reviewed, full-text articles goes considerably beyond history, and searches will need to be limited to find the right selection of materials. See Karyn for help.
  • General OneFile  
    A general periodicals collection, with some materials dating back to the 1970s. Useful for mainstream articles rather than academic historical pieces. Some articles may be useful as primary sources for more recent historical periods/events.
  • PopCulture Universe  Icon
    US history through a cultural lens, including fashion, leisure activities, television, sports, etc. Some material here is primary, some secondary, some tertiary; all can be cited due to the specialist nature of the site.
  • US History in Context  Icon
    This history site contains primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. The VIEWPOINT essays are excellent secondary sources.
  • CVoD: Classroom Video on Demand  
    This collection of streaming media includes documentaries (a great secondary source) and news media (which can be secondary or primary source materials) and more. Searchable by publisher, segment title, or full title.
  • ACLS Humanities E-Book Project  Icon
    Available via NYPL (card and pin numbers required for access), this is a fully searchable, curated, quality collection of ebooks in the humanities.


Tertiary sources synthesize information from secondary and sometimes primary sources. Tertiary sources are often "just the facts" and are generally not acceptable sources in a paper or historical study, although the sources they point to may be valuable secondary and primary sources.



In short:

  • YES for context
  • YES for background
  • YES for pointing to other, better sources
  • NO for citing
  • NO for analyzing


Tertiary sources are encyclopedias or other fast-fact sources, whether digital or in print; tertiary sources present a synthesis of information but do not provide new analysis. They often do not include specific citations, although a general "sources" or "further reading" section is not uncommon. While some tertiary sources are specialized enough that they should be cited in a paper, most tertiary sources, such as a general encyclopedia, are not traditionally cited.

  • Wikipedia  Icon
    Wikipedia is crowd-sourced and as a result some articles may contain bias and/or analysis, rather than pure synthesis; however, for historical research, Wikipedia should be treated as any other encyclopedia and used only as a starting place. The hyperlinks to external sites and the references may be rich jumping off points for finding relevant primary and secondary sources.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica  Icon
    One of the best encyclopedias available, great for background information and deep contextual knowledge. Especially useful for world history.
  • World Book Advanced  Icon
    A general encyclopedia, less detailed than Britannica, ideal for breadth rather than depth of information.
  • Encyclopedia Americana  Icon
    A general encyclopedia, written in easily accessible language, particularly strong for American History.
  • US History in Context  Icon
    This history site contains primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Limit to reference for tertiary source materials.

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