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HST 120 Emergence of Modern America

Beginning Your Search in History

Primary and Secondary Sources

Historians distinguish between primary vs. secondary sources.    Mending the Family Kettle. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

"Secondary" is fairly straightforward to define: what historians write about past phenomena.  The best known examples are books and journal articles.  Other formats can include papers in edited volumes, chapters, dissertations, and more.

"Primary" sources however take many forms--correspondence, diaries, personal narratives, official public records, news reports, advertisements...  Primary sources are usually contemporary with the past phenomena under study.

It is important to remember that primary sources may be reproduced and published much later.  Even if you are looking at a copy, it is still a primary source.


Mending the Family Kettle. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress


Quick Citation Resources in History

MLA resources typically use MLA Style The MLA website provides examples of how to cite and how to structure a paper in this style. 

MLA follows this format:

Article Resource

Lastname, Firstname. "Title of Article." Journal Title, vol. X, no. X, Date, pp. X-X. Database, OR URL.

The library can guide you to citation management software and resources to help you properly cite your sources.