How are Primary Sources Important to History?

How are Primary Sources Important to History?

Primary & Secondary Sources

Primary sources are vital to the study of history because they provide the most accurate information available which is needed for historical interpretation. The accuracy of the data being interpreted also depends upon the source used during analysis. The weight of importance given to the information is determined by whether the source is a primary or secondary resource.

The distinction between primary and secondary resources is a difference of what is being documented or researched. Primary sources are the documentation of an experience, research, situation, or event that is firsthand. There are a variety of primary sources that include,

ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records
CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art
RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings (Princeton Library, 2012).

An example of a primary source would be a book such as “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Books such as Anne Frank’s diary represent firsthand experience of situations and are therefore considered primary resources. This is different than secondary sources which interpret or examine primary resources. These sources do not have direct observation or experience of the subject matter. Secondary sources include,

PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, etc. A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings A history textbook A book about the effects of WWI (Princeton Library, 2012).

Both primary and secondary sources are utilized in research and the bulk of research is considered secondary analysis which occurs when a primary source of data is used by another source to find a conclusion. Student research assignments are often considered secondary analysis, drawing conclusions based on data that other people collected. Secondary analysis can presents some issues with validity and difficulty understanding since the secondary user did not collect the data are may be unfamiliar with all of the terms and sources. Care must be taken when using this data to ensure proper interpretation.

The advantage of using secondary analysis include not having to collect the data and the breadth of the data available. Another major advantage of secondary analysis is that the data collection process is often guided by an expert in the subject and data which might not be available to a smaller research project. The biggest disadvantage is finding the data that is needed in the many sources available in journals. 


Princton Library. (2012). What is a primary source?. Retrieved from

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Article Updated: 10/20/2021


Vincent Triola. Wed, Mar 31, 2021. How are Primary Sources Important to History? Retrieved from

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