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Archives and Special Collections: Primary and Secondary Sources

An introduction to the materials available in Clark University's Archives and Special Collections.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

When working with an archival collection, it is important to understand the difference between types of sources.  While secondary sources collect material and present it through analysis or interpretation, primary sources are contemporary and first-hand accounts of original information.

Primary sources: Firsthand account; Factual, not analytical; Made close to the time of the event or period studied; Original information; Personal or institutional records.  Secondary Sources: Secondhand analysis; Gathers many primary sources and other secondary sources; Made after the event or period studied; Comments, interprets, or analyzes

Helpful Hints

Types of Primary Source Material

Primary source documents can be a wide range of items.  Here are a few that we hold in our collection:

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Speeches
  • Memos
  • Photographs
  • Manuscripts
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Class notes
  • Syllabi
  • Meeting minutes
  • Artifacts
  • Scrapbooks
  • Newspapers
  • Internet communications
  • Lab notes
Primary Secondary
Letter from Jonas Clark to G. Stanley Hall Biography of Jonas Clark
Atlas of Worcester, 1900 A History of the Canal District
Freshman beanies Chronology of Clark History
Scientific study Literature review
Photograph of students in Psychology classroom Psychology textbook