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Archives & Primary Sources

Learn about the Emerson College Archives & Special Collections as well as other archives that may be of use when researching your topic. Also learn about primary sources and where to find them online.

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

What Are Primary Sources?

A primary source is a reliable first-hand account of a topic or event usually created at or near the time the event occurred or the topic was relevant.  There are many different types of primary sources, including:

  • Speeches, diaries, letters, and interviews;
  • Event programs, posters, and television advertisements;
  • Survey data, such as census or economic statistics; and
  • Photographs, videos, or audio recordings capturing events.

What Are Secondary Sources?

On the other hand, a secondary source is an account created later by someone who did not personally experience the topic or event being discussed.  In most cases, secondary resources are created by researching primary sources and then using that evidence to analyze and summarize the topic or event.  Examples of secondary sources are:

  • Scholarly books and articles;
  • Genealogies;
  • Data analyses; and
  • Documentaries.

book coverWhat are Tertiary Sources?

A tertiary source summarizes and collects primary sources and secondary sources.

Examples of tertiary sources include:

  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks
  • Companions
  • Indexes 
  • Online encyclopedias or indexes also count as tertiary sources.



When Does a Primary Source Become a Secondary Source?

There are times when a secondary source can be used as a primary source. For example, an acting textbook used in a theatre class is generally considered to be a secondary source. Why? Because the textbook looks at the general trends and first-hand accounts in the field of acting, and summarizes that information for students. The textbook can still be used as a primary source by students trying to determine how acting was viewed during the time period in which the textbook was written.

Newspapers: Electronic Access

Includes both news aggregator databases (collections of electronic newspapers), and subscriptions to individual electronic newspapers.
Looking for online library access to specific newspaper? Type newspaper name into Publications A-Z (prev. Full Text Finder).

Select Online Collections of Primary Resources