History Day - Primary and Secondary Sources

How to Evaluate Historical Sources

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When studying and learning about history, we must always be questioning the quality of our sources.

  • Who wrote this?
  • How do they know the information they are telling me?
  • When did they write it?
  • Why did they write it?
  • Who did they write it for?

These are good questions to ask yourself about every book you read. We should never believe everything we read; you should question everything. Is it inherently impossible for an author to leave out some sort of bias. It is your responsibility to determine their bias and to reflect on how it affected their work.

Now I'm sure you're wondering why I've told you all this before I explain the differences between primary and secondary sources. I promise, there is a reason. For every source you use, you will need to think of the questions above to determine which category they fit into - primary or secondary - and how much you can trust what they say.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are informational sources from the time of the event. Examples of primary sources:

  • Autobiographies
  • Diaries
  • Documents
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Film footage
  • Laws
  • Letters
  • Newspaper articles
  • Novels
  • Objects from the time
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs
  • Poems, art, music
  • Speeches

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are informational sources that analyze the event. These sources often use several primary sources and compile the information. Examples of secondary sources:

  • Biographies
  • Encyclopedias
  • History books
  • Textbooks

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