Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
What is a primary source?
A primary source documents shows direct, immediate or firsthand knowledge of a subject or event. Primary source documents are written at the time or on the scene where an event occurred.
Secondary sources lack direct knowledge of a topic or event. These include biographies, monographs, and general periodical articles. Secondary sources are written by people who did not witness or experience an event but may have a great deal of knowledge about the topic.
What's so great about primary sources?
Primary sources are firsthand accounts of historical events that allow you unfiltered access into the past. Here are some other reasons to use primary sources:
- Bring you into contact with the firsthand accounts of events.
- Help you relate in a personal way to events of the past.
- Give you a sense of the complexity of history.
- Allow you to see that secondary sources may only represent one of many historical interpretations.
- Expose you to multiple perspectives on issues of the past and present.
- Help you base your research off facts and observations.
- Require you to examine sources thoughtfully.
- Allow you to have a deeper understanding by comparing primary sources with what you already know.
- Demonstrate that we all participate in making history every day, leaving behind our own primary source documentation.
Find Primary Sources Here!
Citing Primary Sources in Your Bibliography
||Aristotle. Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Edited by J. Barnes. 2 vols. Bollingen Series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Author of original document, last name first. “Title of document.” Date of document.
Title of Web Site where document is found. Author, Editor, or Producer of site. Date accessed. URL.
March On Milwaukee Civil Rights History Project. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. http://www4.uwm.edu/libraries/digilib/march/index.cfm.
Smith, Sydney. “Fallacies of Anti-Reformers.” 1824. Internet Modern History Sourcebook.
Paul Halsall, ed. Accessed 22 June 2011.
“Codex Justinianus: Protection of Freewomen Married to Servile Husbands.” 530 A.D.
Internet Medieval Source Book. Paul Halsall, ed. Accessed 25 February 2002. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/codexVIl-24-i.html.
Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Instituions.
London: Macmillan & Co., 1912. Accessed 22 June 21 2011. http://books.google.com/books?id=2kAoAAAAYAAJ&dq=inauthor%3A%22Thorstein%20Veblen%22&pg=
||Keller, Helen. Helen Keller to John Hitz, August 29, 1893. Letter. From Library of Congress, The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers, 1862-1939. http://www.loc.gov/item/magbellbib004020 (accessed January 11, 2006).
||The Stars and Stripes, “Free Education While You Wait For Orders Home.” Dec. 6, 1918. From Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/item/sn88075768/1918-12-06/ed-1/ (accessed Feb. 10, 2012).
|A Primary Source Quoted by a Second Source*
Author Surname, First Name/Initial [original author]. Title. Place of Publication:
Publisher, Year. Quoted in Author First Name/Initial Surname [the author
of the book that refers to the thoughts/ideas of the other author]. Title.
Place of Publication: Publisher, Year, page #.
Gabriel, Astrik L.. "The Educational Ideas of Christine de Pisan." Culture and
Imperialism. Journal of the History of Ideas 16, no. 1 (1995). Quoted in
Sarah Gwyneth Ross. The Birth of Feminism: Women as Intellect in
Renaissance Italy and England. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
*If an author quotes someone else's work, but you are unable to track down the original source, you must cite both the original and the secondary source in a footnote and bibliography.
Examples taken from the Library of Congress and Le Moyne College
Footnotes vs. Bibliography
Footnotes: Citations at the end of the page on which the source is referenced, marked by a superscript number which corresponds to the superscript number within the body of the text next to the content being cited.
Bibliography: All of the sources you consulted while writing your paper. These full citations are placed in alphabetical order by author's last name and include sources cited and relevant source that were not cited but used as a reference.
Chicago Style Basics
Use these basic guidelines when preparing your paper:
- Use one-inch margins all around.
- Spacing: Double-space throughout (including block quotes)
- Choose a clean 12-point font.
- Include a title page.
- Page numbers begin in the header of the first page of text with Arabic number 1.
- Cite your sources in both the footnotes and the bibliography page.