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University Archives: Primary and Secondary Archival Sources

This guide will introduce you to the University Archives at Forsyth Library and serve as a starting point to help you begin your original research.

Primary Archival Sources

Primary sources provide a direct record of events, people, practices or conditions. Primary sources are often created by eyewitnesses of what they are recounting. Primary sources are the most common type of sources you will encounter in the University Archives.

Primary sources items might include: 

  • letters
  • committee minutes
  • oral history interviews
  • university records
  • data from experiments or studies
  •  photographs
  • slides
  • video footage

Secondary Archival Sources

Secondary sources discuss, interpret, analyze or in some way comment upon primary sources. Secondary sources are often book, articles, studies, documentaries. In these sources, the author has taken information and presented it in a certain way or used it to make an argument. Some of the material in the University Archives might be best read as a secondary source. 

Secondary source items might include: 

  • published journal article by faculty
  • administrative research reports
  • Master's theses


Primary vs. Secondary Sources

When it comes to archival sources the difference between what is a primary and secondary source can sometimes depend on how you plan on using them in your research.

For example:

A Master's thesis from the 1930s can be either a primary or a secondary source. For a project in which you explore the way research was conducted in the 1930s the Master's thesis would be a primary source. If that thesis was on ghost towns in Kansas in the 1890s and you were also studying ghost towns in the 1890s than the thesis could be used as a secondary source. 

 Always ask yourself are you using the source as a first-hand account of what you are trying to research? Does the source already interpret the research or data somehow? Think carefully about how you are using a certain source in your own research.