Definition of Primary Sources

Primary source literature in the humanities:

  • provides a first-hand record or report of what was done, thought and felt at a particular time and place
  • provides the raw material for interpretation and analysis by researchers in the arts, theatre, music, philosophy, and history.
  • for some literary scholars can include the primary form of a specific text, such as the final draft or the first publication of a work.

Secondary source literature in the humanities:

  • summarizes, compares, critiques, or interprets the primary literature.

Tertiary sources in the humanities:

  • are collections of primary and/or secondary sources.

Primary Sources

Oral histories reflect the content of Archives and Special Collections. The audio recordings—almost exclusively audio cassette tapes recorded in the 1970s and 1980s—include both university history and local history interviewees.  Local history subjects include industry, public schools, churches, politics and remembrances of residing notables, such as Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. In addition, a collection of Safe Haven oral histories have been digitized. 

To locate oral history tapes search the Library Catalog for the series “Oral History Tapes.”  Then modify your results by subject or person.

Our most complete collection of Oswego’s newspapers is on microfilm in Penfield Library’s Microform Collection on the second floor.  The newspapers date from 1819 to present and are kept in chronological order under the various titles, all of which start with “Oswego”.

Many local and regional newspapers have been digitized and are available via NYS Historic Newspapers  

Penfield’s Regional News Databases – Current and Historic list is a good place to find out what area newspapers are available electronically or on microfilm and what volumes are indexed.  

Journal articles on local history can be found in the research database America: History and Life or via the United States History Research Guide

The Oswego County Historical Society Publication Index (1937-1977) is another reference tool that offers citations to the locally published history journal.  The Oswego County Historical Society journal can be found on the third floor in the Circulating Collection under the call number F127 .O91 O9.  Digitized copies of the Oswego County Historical Society publications are available from New York Heritage Digital Collections.

The Oswego County Census, which lists county statistical information from each decade from 1790 to present, is on microfilm.    Name indexes of family surnames listed in the censuses can be found in bound volumes.

Special Collections has a selection of city directories and telephone books.  The incomplete series dates from 1859 to 2011.  Digitized copies of the city directories are available via New York Heritage Digital Collections. 

Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. 1853-1887.  
Reference F122 D66 Special Collections F122 D66

The Papers of Sir William Johnson.
Circulating Collection E195 J62 and Special Collections E195 J62 1921

Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York.  1777-1795, 1801-1804. 
Circulating Collection E263 N6 N56 and Special Collections E263 N6 N56  

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

Examples of Primary Sources

Examples of Secondary Sources

Original research articles published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals

Scholarly articles which critique original research articles
Diaries Review articles from scholarly journals
Correspondence, including Letters Book or movie reviews
Interviews Dictionaries (can also be a tertiary source)
Personal narratives Directories (can also be a tertiary source)
Memoirs Encyclopedias (can also be a tertiary source)
Autobiographies Textbooks (can also be a tertiary source)
Speeches Newspaper articles (can also be a primary source)