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HS5390 - Senior Thesis I: Historical Methods

Resources for research and exploration for HS5390 students. Includes the in-class research activity and materials related to the Zotero citation management program.

What is a secondary source?

A secondary source discusses, analyzes, and interprets a topic. Typically, in history, a secondary source will cite both primary sources and other secondary sources used to develop the author's argument.  A historian's work, either a book or journal article, typically is a secondary source . Your senior thesis will be a secondary work.  

You will want to use secondary sources for a couple of key reasons: 1) to gain a clear understanding of the events, time, people, places for a topic, and 2) to use the work cited to identify key primary sources.

Secondary sources are contextual.  So, for instance, a newspaper article may be primary source for one topic (an first hand account from the time being studied) OR if could be a secondary source (discussion of an event that occurred in the past). 

Databases: finding secondary sources in history

The databases listed here are places to start when searching for secondary sources.  

Evaluate Secondary Sources

The CRAAP Test (Currency, Reliability, Accuracy, Authority, Purpose) provides questions you can ask yourself to decide whether or not to include an article, book, website, or other type source in your research project.  

The CRAAP Test is one tool to use when deciding on sources.

Currency: The timeliness of the information
  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of date for your topic or discipline? 
Reliability: The importance of the information for your needs.
  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the informational content
  • Where does the information come from? Are the author's sources listed, either in footnotes, endnotes, bibliography or works cited? 
  • Does the author(s) cite evidence in their argument?
  • Is there any indication that the information has been reviewed by editors or reviewed by peers (peer review)?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammatical, or other typographical errors?
Authority: The source of the information
  • What is the title or name of the web page(s), entry, or article you are examining? How difficult is this to determine?
  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given? 
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there advertising on the site? If so, what type of advertising is there and is it clearly differentiated from the content?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (webpages)
Purpose: The reason the information exists.
  • What is the purpose of the information? to inform? teach? sell? entertain? persuade?
  • Who is the intended audience? How can you tell?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Adapted from "Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test." 29 Sept. 2009. Meriam Library, California State University, Chico. Web. 3 Sept. 2010.