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FILM 395R French New Wave (Holland)

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Your paper should use a mix of secondary and primary sources. Both types of sources serve distinct purposes in academic research.

Secondary sources:

  • Offer analysis or commentary on a subject after the fact.
  • Serve as a valuable resource for determining what primary sources are available for your research topic and where to find them.
  • Provide the context that you need to understand the films or directors that you are studying and their place within film history.
  • Enable you to see the current scholarly conversations related to your research topic, so that you can develop your own, distinctive perspective in dialogue with other scholars.

For academic research, you should rely mainly on scholarly books and journal articles, since they are peer reviewed. That is, they are reviewed by fellow experts in the field to ensure that the research and argumentation meets minimum standards for publication.

Primary sources:

Have a direct connection to the creative works, people, or events that you are studying. Within film and media studies, some examples include:

  • Memoirs, correspondence, or interviews by the people who were directly involved, written either at the time or at a later date. (Such as the letters of François Truffaut or interviews with Agnes Varda.)
  • Trade journal or trade newspaper articles. These can tell you how a film performed at the box office, how it was received by film exhibitors, or what was happening in the film industry. (Such as the popularity of French films in U.S. theaters at the time.)
  • Fan magazines. These can tell you how a film star (such as Brigitte Bardot) was promoted to audiences.
  • Newspaper reviews dating from when a film was released. These can provide valuable insight into a film's critical reception at the time, which may be different from today's perspective.
  • Newspaper ads. These can tell you how a film was marketed to audiences.
  • The film text itself. In fields such as film and media studies or literary studies, the creative text can be considered a primary source if your main goal is to produce a close analysis.

Primary sources are what you use to answer your research questions. Going back to them directly rather than simply relying on the perspectives of other scholars will help you develop your own insights.

In order to use primary sources effectively, you should develop a solid understanding of the cultural and historical context surrounding your topic by becoming familiar with the secondary literature as well.