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Historical research: Historical sources

A guide to finding sources for historical research


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Welcome to the Sources for Historical Research Guide

This guide will familiarise you with resources particularly useful to historical research.

Primary and secondary sources

Historical research involves using primary and secondary sources.

In essence, primary sources are the original document, object or data that you are investigating.  Secondary sources are the interpretation, analysis or commentary about a primary source.  

Watch this 3 minute video to learn more about primary and secondary sources and how your research question shapes these definitions. 


Primary vs. secondary sources from Information Literacy by Elsa Loftis



This chart shows some examples of the distinction between primary and secondary sources:

  Primary Source Secondary Source
History Bayeux Tapestry Book titled: The Battle of Hastings : sources and interpretations
Anthropology Field notes Article in Journal of African cultural studies
Literature Jane Austen novel Book title: Jane Austen's Literary Manuscripts: A Study of the Novelist's development through the surviving papers
Politics Political cartoon Book titled: Philippine cartoons : political caricature of the American era, 1900-1941

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Historical source formats

Types of historical primary resources you might explore include: 

  • Personal diaries and autobiographies;
  • Manuscripts and original creative works;
  • Ephemera such as posters, pamphlets;
  • Archival collections such as the UWA Special Collections;
  • Historical newspapers, journals, and books;
  • Audio-visual collections, historical photos, film footage, paintings, and architecture;
  • The collections of national and state libraries, museums, and art galleries. 

See this list of where you can find primary sources and often also secondary sources related to them. 


 Except for logos, Canva designs or where otherwise indicated, content in this guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.