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World History: Source Types

A guide to get you started on your World History research. If you have any questions or would like more help, please see the librarian at the Reference Desk.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary resources were created during the relevant time period.

They often are first hand, immediate reports and records 

They can include:

  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Diaries
  • Letters.
  • Working papers, such as an author's notes or outlines.
  • Photographs.
  • Sound recording, such as speeches.
  • Pamphlets and brochures

Books as Primary Sources

You're in luck! The school you attend has been around so long, we have books in our collection that would qualify as primary sources. For example, a book about the Vietnam War written in the 1960s or early 1970s (such as Abuse of Power by Theodore Draper, 1967, DS557.A63D7 1967) would be a primary source.

We also have volumes of diaries, letters, speeches, etc. that were written during particular time periods but published more recently. You can look for these by entering "diaries," "diary," "letters," or similar keywords when doing a search of Alexandria. And as always, our staff can help you find these materials.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

This student video uses examples from the Apollo moon landing to explore the difference between primary and secondary sources.

More Places To Find Primary Sources

The Library of Congress provides a list of free web resources that include primary sources on a variety of topics, or try these Hill databases.

Old School: Paper Indexes


This guide includes an extensive list of databases and those are great to use, but if you want to go old school, The Ryan Library has paper indexes in the Reference Collection and an extensive collection of bound periodicals in the basement.  These resources may be beneficial if you are researching something from the early 1900s to the 1970s---topics like the Spanish-American War, Russian Revolution, World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the British Invasion (music) or the Six-Day War.  Subjects are listed alphabetically and the indexes are arranged by date.  Ask for help at the Reference Desk if needed.

The New York Times Index 1851 - 2002

Pooles Index to Periodical Literature 1802 - 1906

The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature 1900 - 1989

What is a Secondary Source

Secondary sources come from a diferent time period and often contain information gathered from primary sources and reports.„ They sythesize, interpret or analyze primary sources.
  • Second-hand information
  • „Different Time Period
  • „May contain pictures, quotes, or graphics from primary sources
  • „Journal articles
  • „Biographies
  • „Criticism
  • „Commentaries
  • „Histories
  • „Interpretations

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources condense information and or provide broad summaries of information from primary and secondary resources. They may also direct you to primary and secondary sources. They include things like encylopedia articles, bibliographies and indexes.

  • „Encyclopedias
  • Textbooks
  • „Almanacs
  • Guide books
  • „Timelines
  • „User guides or manuals