Skip to Main Content

History Research Guide: Home

Welcome to the History Research Guide!

"We are Mr. Everybody's historian as well as our own, since our histories serve the double purpose, which written histories have always served, of keeping alive the recollection of memorable men and events. We are thus of that ancient and honorable company of wise men of the tribe, of bards and story-tellers and minstrels, of soothsayers and priests, to whom in successive ages has been entrusted the keeping of the useful myths." - Carl L. Becker (1931)


What is a Primary Source? What is a Secondary Source?

Items that are directly associated with their producer or user and the time period in which they were created.


  • The emphasis is on both place and time, so think, "Was the author there then?
  • If it is an "original source material" then it is a primary source. Because of this permanency, primary sources are the gold standard for examining and interpreting history.

Examples include:

  • Newspapers
  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Autobiographies
  • Government documents
  • Photographs
  • Oral interviews
  • News broadcasts
  • Artifacts

Analyses and interpretations by non-participants based on primary sources and other secondary sources.


  • Think of the phrase, "you had to be there." Secondary sources were never "there," so they never completely "get it."
  • Secondary sources are analyses that are constantly revised as new evidences or interpretations arise. This lack of permanency sets them apart from primary sources.

Examples include:

  • Books/Textbooks
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Popular magazines
  • Reviews
  • Biographies
  • Encyclopedias

Presnell, J. L. (2013). The information-literate historian: a guide to research for history students. New York: Oxford University Press. Link

Cullen, J. (2009). Essaying the past: how to read, write, and think about history. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons. Link

How to Tackle the History Paper

Beins, B. (2012). APA style simplified: writing in psychology, education, nursing, and sociology. Malden, MA:
        Wiley-Blackwell. Link

Benjamin, J. R. A student's guide to history. Boston, NY: Bedford/St. Martin's.Link

Northey, M., & McKibbin, J. (2012). Making sense: a student's guide to research and writing. Don Mills, Ontario:
        Oxford University Press. Link