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Modern History

What are primary sources?

"Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later."

Hans Weingartz Leonce49

Primary sources can include:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Photographs
  • Diary entries
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Pamphlets
  • Court files

You can read more about what primary sources are and how to use them:

Reading Primary Sources by Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann (eds) 2009

Primary Sources at Yale University 

What are secondary and tertiary sources?

  • Secondary sources are different from primary sources. They are not first-hand accounts of events written by eyewitnesses, or photographs of actual events. Secondary sources use a variety of other sources to describe, analyse, interpret, and provide commentary. Examples are books, journal articles, reports and websites. 
  • Tertiary sources summarise, condense and compile other sources. They are excellent source-types to use in the study of history for contextual information, historiographical approaches and key theorists. Examples are dictionaries, handbooks, encyclopedias and bibliographies. Some examples in the MQ collection are Cambridge Histories Online and The Australian Dictionary of Biography.