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What’s A “Primary Source”? What’s A “Secondary Source”?

Here are a couple of interesting explanations of this difference:

From Princeton Libraries’ Ref Desk: defining “primary source.”┬áNote that this author considers a textbook to be “secondary”; as we discussed, it’s quite possible to consider a textbook as a primary source, if, for example, you’re interested in the history of education and want to know how textbook authors have presented various subjects over time.

From Yale: a really good website about primary sources, with interesting discussions about the way that some sources have been treated as secondary and primary at different points in history (see: the above distinction about textbooks). Most of the links to databases here won’t work if you’re not a Yale student, but we have equivalents here at UT, which we’ll talk about in class tomorrow.

From’s Glossary: a definition of “primary source” that reiterates the fact that a source becomes “primary” because of the way it’s used in your writing, not solely because of its inherent nature.

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