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Nathaniel P. Hill Library

Primary and Secondary Sources: What Are They?

Primary sources are the "raw stuff" of history, created or experienced during the time period being studied. 

  • Provide firsthand accounts, viewpoints, and evidence contemporary to the time.
  • Examples: photograph, diary, speech, map, newspaper article, video footage, legal document, etc.

Secondary sources analyze and interpret historical events, periods of time, or phenomena, and use primary sources to do so.

  • Review, critique, synthesize, and interpret information, usually written well after the fact. 
  • Examples: academic books, textbooks, encyclopedias, biographies, reviews, journal articles, museum exhibits, etc.

Document Analysis Worksheets

Use these Document Analysis worksheets from the National Archives to analyze the primary sources you find in your searches. Choose the "Worksheets for Intermediate or Secondary Students."

The Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America includes over 40 million primary documents, photographs, and other primary sources from archives and libraries across the United States.

Search by keyword from the homepage. Use quotation marks to limit your search to specific terms (for example, searching for "Pequot War" will bring up more relevant resources than searching for Pequot War without quotation marks).

Browse the Primary Source Sets by using the dropdown menus located at the top center of the webpage.


If you find an item you are interested in, click on "View Full Item" to learn more about it from the owning institution.

To cite an item, click on "Cite this Item" on the right side to generate an MLA or Chicago citation. 

Primary Source Sets of interest: 


Hubbard, William, 1621 or 1622-1704. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America <>.


EnCompass: A Rhode Island History Digital Textbook is a project of the Rhode Island Historical Society and Providence College. There are a small number of curated primary sources, some related to Roger Williams and Rhode Island Native American communities. 

Early Encounters



The figure of the Indians' fort or palizado in New England and the manner of the destroying it by Captayne Underhill and Captayne Mason / RH. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

Modern & Other Topics

Material Culture

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) contains extensive collections of clothing, objects, crafts, and material culture from many Native American communities.


Pequot basket. Date unknown. The National Museum of the American Indian, Accessed 24 February 2021. 

Secondary Sources

  • Credo Reference: Think of this as Wikipedia, but vetted by scholars! This is a good place to start when you are researching basic information about a topic, but not necessarily a source you would use for a paper. Technically, encyclopedias are considered tertiary sources. Look at the bibliography at the end of an article to find good primary and secondary sources for an academic paper. 
  • Ebook CentralSearch and access the full-text of over 140,000 academic ebooks from any computer. For remote access , enter through ProQuest Research Library.
  • Some of the museum and library websites you use to locate primary sources may also have good secondary sources, such as commentary or online exhibits.