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2017 National History Day Resources & Tips: Primary & Secondary Sources

Priimary OR Secondary Sources?



Click on the image to open the links to each of these resource types and have fun exploring!


Criteria for determining Primary Sources: 1) created or experienced during the historical period; 2) If a website or book - at least 95% of the information included in it is primary source material (interviews, photographs, laws, personal correspondence etc.).  If the source (website or book) includes more text and primary sources comprise less than 95% of it, then that source is listed in your bibliography as a secondary source that includes a great deal of primary source material


Be aware that some resources (such as most Databases contain BOTH Primary and Secondary sources.  If you are looking for primary sources within their research collections, select Primary Sources in Advanced Search or in the Results Lst!

Primary Sources: Definition & Examples

Definition of a Primary Source [from the 2016 National History Day Website]

"A primary source is a piece of information about an historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of an actual historical moment."


Autobiographies written by a person who had first hand experience during that time period

Interviews with people who lived during the historical period

Census Records [birth, death, marriage records]

Newspaper articles written during the historical era

Photographs from that historical event

Laws passed at that time

Speeches  and Government Reports written during the  time period

Letters  and Diaries written by people who lived during the time period

Flyers or advertisements from that time period

Original pieces of art, video, and music from the era


GAME: Test Your Understanding - Primary vs. Secondary Sources

WORKSHEET: Primary or Secondary Print Sources

Secondary Sources Definition & Examples

Definition of a Secondary Source [from the 2016 National History Day Website]

"A secondary source is a source that was not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era.  Secondary sources are usually created by historians but based on the historians reading of primary sources.  Secondary sources are usually written decades, if not centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue."


Nonfiction books, encyclopedias, and biographies written after the historical period

Articles (newspaper, magazine, journal) written years later & available in print and/or electronically

Statistics and tables created after an event or time period

Most all Websites !


Explain why each is either a Primary or Secondary Source for a project on the Civil War

1. ___Primary   ___ Secondary:  Letter written by President Lincoln to his wife at the onset of the Civil War

2. ___Primary   ___ Secondary:  Nonfiction book about Civil War Soldiers (contains some original photographs)

3. ___Primary   ___ Secondary:  Biography of Mary Todd Lincoln

4. ___Primary   ___ Secondary:  Photographs of the Battle at Gettysburg

5. ___Primary   ___ Secondary:  Advertisement for a shotgun dated 1870

6. ___Primary   ___ Secondary:  Newspaper Headline announcing the assassination of Lincoln

7. ___Primary   ___ Secondary: Website about the Civil War and all of the battles

8. ___Primary   ___ Secondary: Gale U.S. History in Context database article about slavery

9. ___ Primary  ___ Secondary: A cap tht once belonged to a Union Army soldier

10. ___ Primary   ___ Secondary: Speech made by President Obama in 2009 at his first inauguration