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HIST 1320 Honors: U.S. History from 1877: Secondary Sources

Dr. Duffy

Secondary Sources

Suggested Library Databases

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources are historical works written by someone who did not participate in the event or topic. They are documents written to explain and explore historical events and topics, often presenting a particular thesis, or perspective. They comment on, interpret, and discuss primary sources, as well as other secondary sources.

Scholarly sources are secondary sources written by and for people in academia – like you! When a scholar of history writes an article, a book, or a book chapter, their work goes through a rigorous vetting process before publication. Other scholars read and comment on the work, generally making sure the author’s information is correct, and that their interpretation/perspective is valid. On the other hand, popular sources, for a general audience, often do not include such thorough scrutiny, and so we do not consider them to be reliable sources of historical information.

Examples of scholarly secondary sources:

  • Articles published in academic journals that focus on history
  • Books published by academic presses (university presses)
  • Book chapters in books published by academic presses
  • Some certain documentary films (check with Dr. Lannon)

What NOT to use as your secondary source:

  • Book reviews (even if they are in academic publications!)
  • Magazine articles
  • Websites ( and Wikipedia are expressly forbidden!)
  • Newspaper articles (you can use newspaper articles as primary sources, if they come from the time period you are researching)
  • Podcasts
  • Hollywood movies
  • Non-academic books and articles
  • Encyclopedia entries