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ARH102 Art History: Renaissance Through Contemporary Art (Hall)

Research guide designed for ARH102 students with links to library databases, tips for scholarly research, and detailed instruction in producing an annotated bibliography.

Quick Video on Primary Versus Secondary

Check out this quick video for a basic understanding of primary and secondary sources.

When searching the library databases or open web for information resources, you will need to evaluate whether the sources you find are primary or secondary. They are usually not labeled as one or the other, so you will need to make that determination. Your librarian can help.

Primary and secondary sources of information are often dependent on what you are researching. For this assignment, your primary resources will most likely be:

  • interviews with artists or art specialists
  • original art objects or photographs of original art objects
  • letters and diaries 
  • critical reviews of art published during the time period of the art you have selected to study

Primary sources are first-hand observations or experiences of an event. They can also be the original sources of information before they have been analyzed, such as statistical data sets and original creations, such as works of art. For the purposes of this assignment, photos of art objects from the Met and/or from sources such as the Bridgeman Images Library will be your primary sources.  Often there is written information accompanying these images. When you are citing and annotating the images of your art objects, focus only on the art object itself not any accompanying, written information. Ask your librarian if you need more explanation or clarificaiton on this.

Secondary sources are created after an event occurred and offer a review or an analysis of the event; they provide an interpretation of the primary source. 


Primary or Secondary? What's the Difference?

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

When conducting research you may also be asked to identify whether an information resource is a Primary or Secondary Source of information.Typically, this might occur in History classes or courses which utilize various historical texts or subjects. Below is a brief overview of what constitutes a primary resource and a secondary resource.


Primary Sources

An Original work

(This source requires you to interpret the work)
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Original Documents (e.g. birth certificate or an official college transcript)
  • Patents
  • Photographs
  • Proceedings
  • Surveys
  • Speeches


Secondary Sources

Reference to an original work

(This is a source where another person interprets the work for you)
  • Biographies
  • Commentaries
  • Dissertations
  • Indexes, Abstracts, Bibliographies (used to locate primary & secondary sources)
  • Journal Articles*
  • Monographs (books)*
*Tip": Dissertations, journal articles and books may be primary sources if the work is original.

Links to More Resources on Primary and Secondary Sources

Still not certain? These links also describe the difference between primary and secondary sources.


Identifying Primary and Secondary Sources

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