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LGBT Studies

Research guide to LGBT Studies

Primary Sources

Sometimes your assignment will instruct you to use "primary sources."

Definition: Primary Source 
Primary sources are usually defined as first hand information or data that is generated by witnesses or participants in past events.  Evaluating whether something can be used as a primary source depends on two things:

  • Proximity to the source. Ideally the best type of source material comes from a person or process that is closest in time or proximity to the event, person or place under study. Usually the creator of this type of primary source is an eyewitness who left a record for personal or procedural purposes. Reliability of sources declines as one get farther in time and proximity.
  • Questions asked. Determining whether a source is a primary source often depends on the questions asked of it by the researcher.

For example...

A history text from the 1950s about the rise of Catholicism in America is usually considered a secondary source. However, a researcher investigating prevailing attitudes about religion in the 1950s may consider this work a primary source.

What is the difference between a primary source and a secondary source?
Definition: Secondary Source 

Secondary sources are completely removed in proximity from the original event, person or place but seek to provide an interpretation based on primary sources. There is a continuum from primary to secondary sources, and many sources show elements of both.



For example...

Ken Burns's television documentary about the American Civil War is a secondary source that uses primary sources to tell a story. A memoir written by a Civil War veteran in 1887, twenty-two years after the end of the Civil War, can be considered a primary source, albeit far removed from the actual events. A history text about the Civil War written in 1987, however, is most definitely a secondary source.