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Bibliography With Primary And Secondary Sources Definition

Hello and welcome to the Yale University Library!   

 My name is Todd Gilman and I am your librarian for collection development in Comparative Literature.

The goal of this guide is to direct you to the best databases, reference tools, and on-line and print resources for Comparative Literature. It is my objective to provide you with pointers to as many areas of scholarly interest as possible, from booksand academic articles to reference resources and interesting web links to primary and secondary resources that will help keep you abreast of current developments in Comparative Literature.

The selection of resources and (re)search strategies recommended in this guide is meant to reflect the trends and practices in Comparative Literaturein general, as well as the Comparative Literature holdings of the Yale University Libraryin particular. In addition, this guide also provides a few general tips on how to best navigate the research resources available to you when writing a scholarly paper on literary topics.

This guide will be updated periodically, so keep an eye out for new resources.  Feel free to give me feedback on the content of this guide and don't hesitate to send me a message if there is something I haven't covered here that you think should be added. 

Questions? Want to discuss your research objectives and search strategies?  You're welcome to call or e-mail me anytime -- please see my contact information in the right-hand column. I will be delighted to discuss your needs!

 I hope you enjoy reading this guide!

1. Introduction

Whether conducting research in the social sciences, humanities (especially history), arts, or natural sciences, the ability to distinguish between primary and secondary source material is essential. Basically, this distinction illustrates the degree to which the author of a piece is removed from the actual event being described, informing the reader as to whether the author is reporting impressions first hand (or is first to record these immediately following an event), or conveying the experiences and opinions of others—that is, second hand.
 

2. Primary sources

These are contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question. These original documents (i.e., they are not about another document or account) are often diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, speeches, manuscripts, interviews and other such unpublished works. They may also include published pieces such as newspaper or magazine articles (as long as they are written soon after the fact and not as historical accounts), photographs, audio or video recordings, research reports in the natural or social sciences, or original literary or theatrical works.
 

3. Secondary sources

The function of these is to interpret primary sources, and so can be described as at least one step removed from the event or phenomenon under review. Secondary source materials, then, interpret, assign value to, conjecture upon, and draw conclusions about the events reported in primary sources. These are usually in the form of published works such as journal articles or books, but may include radio or television documentaries, or conference proceedings.
 

4. Defining questions

When evaluating primary or secondary sources, the following questions might be asked to help ascertain the nature and value of material being considered:

  • How does the author know these details (names, dates, times)? Was the author present at the event or soon on the scene?
  • Where does this information come from—personal experience, eyewitness accounts, or reports written by others?
  • Are the author's conclusions based on a single piece of evidence, or have many sources been taken into account (e.g., diary entries, along with third-party eyewitness accounts, impressions of contemporaries, newspaper accounts)?

Ultimately, all source materials of whatever type must be assessed critically and even the most scrupulous and thorough work is viewed through the eyes of the writer/interpreter. This must be taken into account when one is attempting to arrive at the 'truth' of an event.

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