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University of Wyoming - Libraries

History : Primary Sources

Use this guide to help you find information about history.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are records that provide first-hand testimony or evidence of an event, action, topic, or time period. Primary sources are usually created by individuals who directly experience an event or topic, and record their experience through photographs, videos, memoirs, correspondence, oral histories, or autobiographies.

Common Examples of PRIMARY Sources:

Letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches, interviews, photographs, notes, subject files, oral histories, autobiographies, travelogues, pamphlets, newspapers, newsletters, brochures, government documents including hearings, reports and statistical data, military service records, manuscripts, archival materials, artifacts, architectural plans, artistic works, works of fiction, music scores, and sound recordings.

Figuring out whether something is a primary or secondary source can be tricky. Sometimes it's not clear cut. For more tips on what to look for, visit this helpful website from Yale University.

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources put primary sources in context. They summarize, interpret, analyze, or comment on information found in primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written by individuals who did not experience firsthand the events about which they are writing.

Common Examples of SECONDARY Sources:

Biographies, monographs, journal articles, dissertations, theses, essays and encyclopedia articles.

European History

American History

In the First Person - Index to Letters, Diaries, Oral Histories, and Personal Narratives

U.S. West History

American Civil War History

Middle East & East Asia