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Special Collections Guide: Environmental History in Latin America & the Caribbean

Research guide to primary sources from the Latin American Library's Special Collections for historical research on the dynamic relationship between people and the environment across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Definitions

Primary Sources

A primary source is material that contains information that is evidence of, a first-hand account or is an original record of an event, idea, person, situation, or context created contemporaneously or later recounted by an eyewitness.  Primary sources can take the form of a variety of formats.  Examples include:  manuscripts; letters, diaries, maps and land records; official records from a government, church, or corporation; blueprints; photographs; motion pictures; audio recordings; oral histories; newspaper articles, and artifacts to name a few examples.  In order to know whether the materials you are examining are “primary” sources depends on the nature of the information they contain and convey and the particular relationship that information has to the research question being posed.  

For example…

An article appearing in the Excelsior newspaper reporting on hurricane damage in Cancún, Mexico written by a reporter on the scene would be a primary source for that event.  A general description of the destruction caused by that same hurricane contained in a research article published 50 years later about the history of Cancún would be a secondary source information.

How is a secondary source different?…

Secondary Sources

A secondary source is material not based on first-hand accounts or direct observation of evidence, but rather relies on indirect sources of information. Secondary sources are created after the fact and often include interpretation or evaluation of primary source information.  Works that comment on another work (primary sources), such as reviews, criticisms, analyses, summaries, and commentaries are secondary source information.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are those that further compile and distill primary and secondary source information.  Examples of tertiary sources include: encyclopedias, almanacs, indexes, and bibliographies.

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