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ANT 385: Energy, Environment, and Cuture in Africa

Dr. Kristin Phillips, Spring 2020

Reference Resources

Reference sources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, or guides to the literature are a great way to find background information on a topic as well as build a vocabulary for searching within and across disciplines.

General Reference Resources

  • Oxford Reference Online. Includes full text content from more than 170 subject dictionaries, language reference, and subject reference works in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences.

Subject Specific Resources

Other Research Guides

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event, phenomenon, or situation, etc. and can exist in any format (e.g. audio, video, digital, text, physical object). For example a book is simply a format. You can find both primary and secondary sources published in book form. Common examples of primary sources include:

  • Things people say, such as speeches, interviews, or oral histories. These may be captured in videos, audio recordings, or transcribed into text.
  • Things people write, such as autobiographies, memoirs, personal journals and diaries, letters, field notes, emails, blogs, social media posts.
  • Images and videos
  • Maps
  • Government documents
  • Laws, court cases and decisions, treaties
  • Newspapers
  • Statistics and data - May be collected by a researcher to answer a specific question or by a governmental or non-governmental agency as a part of ongoing assessment..
  • Polls and public opinions
  • Things you might typically think of as a secondary source, such as a research article. This all depends on your research question and how you use the source.

What is a secondary source?

Secondary sources are interpretations and analyses based on primary sources. For example, an autobiography is a primary source while a biography is a secondary source. Common examples of secondary sources include:

  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Magazines
  • Reports
  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks
  • Dictionaries
  • Documentaries
  • Newspapers

Notice that some of the above examples are also on the primary source list. Whether or not an item is a primary source for your research depends on what you are investigating and how you are using the source.

When is a secondary source a primary source?

Secondary source and primary source are relative concepts, particularly in an anthropological context. Typical secondary sources may be primary sources depending on the research topic. Here are a few examples:

  1. Intellectual history topics
    Although scholarly journal articles are usually considered secondary sources, if one's topic is the history of human rights, then journal articles on human rights will be primary sources in this instance.
  2. Ethnographies
    An ethnography may be a primary and a secondary source simultaneously. The author's observations may provide direct insight to cultural practices, but the author's analysis of those practices would secondary material in most cases.
  3. Institutional or organizational website
    These can be complex sources that may include primary and secondary material. A website might be a primary source for an anthropologist since it can that provide insight to organizational perspectives on events or issues, values, and identify key structures, actors, or resources.
  4. Newspapers may be either primary or secondary
    Most articles in newspapers are secondary, but reporters may be considered as witnesses to an event. Any topic on the media coverage of an event or phenomenon would treat newspapers as a primary source. For anthropologists, newspapers can offer valuable insights to local perceptions of event or issues.
  5. Historical topics
    Magazine articles are usually secondary sources, but for someone researching the view of judicial punishment in the 1920s, magazines from that time period are primary sources. Older publications, such as those prior to the 20th century, are often automatically considered primary sources.