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Historians and other scholars classify sources as primary or secondary. Start working with the secondary sources first, to see what other historians have said about the topic, then start to search for primary sources to use as the basis for your own interpretation.
Primary sources are produced at the time of the event or phenomenon you are investigating. They reflect what someone observed or believed about an event at the time it occurred or soon afterwards. These sources provide the raw material that you will analyze and interpret.
Primary source material covers a wide range of publications, including letters, diaries, photographs, speeches,manuscripts, newspapers, interviews, memoirs, government documents, audio recordings, film or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art. Many of these are unpublished, one-of-a-kind items.
Secondary literature includes scholarly books, articles, and essays, surveys, reference sources, etc. This scholarship is analytical and interpretive. It may synthesize the work of other historians to present a totally new interpretation. More likely it offers a new reading of previously analyzed sources or presents an analysis of previously unknown sources.
Most of the time you will find the secondary literature you need by using the library catalog, the appropriate article databases, subject encyclopedias, and by consulting with your instructor.
A growing number of Primary Sources are available on the web, thanks to digitization projects by libraries, universities, and other agencies.