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History: Medieval Studies: Primary Sources

This guide is intended to introduce you to helpful resources on the subject of Medieval and European History from 400 - 1450. You'll find available resources to help you get started with your research needs.

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source may be a document, an image, or an artifact that provides firsthand account or evidence about a topic that s being studied.They are considered original sources of information and relied upon as credible forms.

Examples of primary sources include documents, diaries, manuscripts, interviews, audio recordings, videos, photographs, court records, memoirs, speeches, polls, newspaper clippings published at the time of study and artifacts (furniture, costumes worn during the time period),

Let's examine the different types of primary sources:


Example of Sources


Visual & Audio Materials

Photos, artwork, films, recordings, artifacts, posters, furniture, and clothing worn during the time period

Contain facts and shows how the world is viewed by individuals or by groups


Statistics, formulas, census records, and experiments

Contain raw data; results are reported

Published Materials

Articles, memoirs, autobiographies, legal documents, birth certificates, poems, email, proclamations, and technical reports

Information provided was written or created by someone with firsthand knowledge or experience at the time of the event. In the case of scientific research, new information, new thoughts, or discoveries are provided.

What is a Secondary Source?

A secondary source analyzes, interprets, discusses, or summarizes a primary source. A primary source contains "first-hand information" while a secondary source contains "second-hand" information.

For example:

  • The Diary of Anne Frank is a primary source. A book written about Anne Frank's diary and life by someone is a secondary source.
  • Usage statistics collected by a library is primary source information. An article using that data to discuss library trends is a secondary source.
  • Some journal articles may be secondary sources if they do not disseminate new research. Magazines are secondary sources. They contain articles written by non-experts.

What is a Tertiary Source?

A tertiary source provides brief information on a topic. They may define a word, describe an object, person, or event in short, provide an overview of many topics, or summarize a series of events. Tertiary sources summarizes information found in primary and secondary sources.

Examples include:

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Almanacs