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History and Western Civilizations: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

 

Civil Rights Act of 1964
Civil Rights Act of 1964

 

Work Cited

"Civil Rights Act (1964)." Our Documents, n.d., http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=97#.

An act to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States, to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes, July 2, 1964; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-; General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

 

Type of Sources
Primary Sources Primary sources are original documents, objects, or media created during the time of the event being researched, or by an individual(s) who directly experienced an event, made a discovery, or created a new work of art.
Secondary Sources Secondary sources are a step removed from the original source.
Tertiary Sources Tertiary sources typically compile and condense a range of primary and/or secondary sources into an easily-digestible format.

Research Tip:

  • Across disciplines, contexts, and perspectives, the definition of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources differ.  
  • Some scholars consider encyclopedias secondary sources, while others consider them tertiary sources.
  • In today’s environment of digitized content, most would contend an online image of a primary document or transcript is sufficient, while others might argue the original physical copy is essential for primary research.
  • Like many areas of study, distinctions are fuzzy and subject to interpretation.
  • When in doubt, be sure to clarify your instructor’s expectations.

Primary Sources

  • Primary sources are original documents, objects, or media created during the time of the event being researched, or by an individual(s) who directly experienced an event, made a discovery, or created a new work of art.
  • They are raw materials with a direct relationship to whatever is being studied.

Examples Include:

  • Photographs
  • Speeches
  • Diaries
  • Editorials
  • Letters
  • Interviews
  • Historic artifacts
  • Works of art
  • Musical scores
  • Performances
  • Literary works
  • Survey research
  • Legal documents
  • Proceedings
  • Patents
  • Video or audio recordings of events being studied

Secondary Sources

  • Secondary sources are a step removed from the original source.
  • They may comment or build upon the original primary sources.

Examples Include:

  • Second-hand reports on events
  • Research
  • Works created by someone else at a different time
  • Criticisms
  • Reviews
  • Interpretations
  • Citations

 

Tertiary Sources

  • Tertiary sources typically compile and condense a range of primary and/or secondary sources into an easily-digestible format.

Examples Include:

(Note: Many of these are also considered secondary sources.)

  • Encyclopedias
  • Almanacs
  • Timelines
  • Bibliographies
  • Directories
  • Fact books

Free Online Primary Sources

Recommended Library Databases with Primary Sources

The following databases are recommended for finding primary sources. Many also include secondary or tertiary sources.

Access to these online subscription resources is restricted to NWACC students, faculty, and staff. Please use your My NWACC Connection login credentials if prompted.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

This short video explains primary and secondary sources.


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