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Library Tutorials for History

What are primary and secondary sources in the Humanities?

You've likely heard the term 'primary sources' and 'secondary sources' before.

But in university-level research, it gets a little more complicated. The meaning of these terms differs depending on your program of study and the context in which it is used.

  • In the humanities, a primary source could be defined as something that was created either during the time period being studied or afterward by individuals reflecting on their involvement in the events of that time.
  • In the social sciences, the definition of a primary source would be expanded to include numerical data that has been gathered to analyze relationships between people, events, and their environment.
  • In the natural sciences, a primary source could be defined as a report of original findings or ideas. These sources often appear in the form of research articles with sections on methods and results. (from Lafayette College Library).