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HIST 300: Methods and Skills of History/Primary & Secondary Sources : SECONDARY SOURCES

Research Process Using Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources offer an interpretation based on analysis and synthesis of primary sources. These types of sources are found in books, journals, and web sources. A secondary source may also synthesize the work of other historians in order to formulate a new interpretation. 

Types of Secondary Sources

  • Monographs/Books (a monograph is a specialized work typically on a single subject and often by a single author on a scholarly subject). 
  • Scholarly Articles from Scholarly Journals (in the field of history, such as The Journal of American History or The American Historical Review)
  • Newspapers 
  • Biographies
  • Encyclopedias (and some other reference works)

Placing Your Topic in Context 

  • Historians read secondary sources to learn about how scholars have interpreted the past. Just as you must be critical of primary sources, you must also be critical of secondary sources. You must be especially careful to distinguish between scholarly and non-scholarly secondary sources.
  • Sample topic: Stevens Point Brewery during Prohibition.
  • What is the broader context of this topic? One would be "Breweries during Prohibition"
  • Before diving into archival materials, you want to start your research with a broader perspective using secondary sources and some of the databases and library catalog listed below. 

Evaluating Secondary Sources

 Evaluation of sources is essential to scholarly research. Consider the following when looking for reliable secondary sources:

  • Who is the author? Are they a scholar in the field?
  • Was the book/ journal published by a scholarly publisher?
  • What is the purpose of the text or motive for writing it?
  • Does the writer have an obvious bias?
  • Does the book/ article have an extensive bibliography?
  • What are the primary sources referred to by the author?
  • What secondary sources are used by the author?
  • Does the text have citations enabling you to check the author's sources.




Databases (to locate secondary sources)

Search@UW Search@UW includes books, monographs, journal articles, videos, conference proceedings, government information, images, and more. A "Google" way to search for materials within the UW Library System. 

WorldCat (Firstsearch interface)  Not finding what you need in Search@UW?  Looking for books cited in footnotes and bibliographies that you cannot find in Search@UW?  Use WorldCat to see if other libraries own the materials you need and then use interlibrary loan to order them.

Suggested History Databases

  • America: History & Life - the definitive index of literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. This authoritative database provides indexing of more than 1,800 academic journals. The database also includes citations and links to book and media reviews. 
  • JSTOR  - provides access to scholarly journals, primarily in the humanities and social sciences. In addition to journal articles, users can access book chapters, ebooks, and primary source documents. In this database, you can limit your search to HISTORY in the "Advanced Search" filter. 

Other Relevant Databases