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History of the Book

A guide to research in the history of books, reading, publishing, and print culture.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

  • The categories of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources are not mutually exclusive. 
  • The way one uses or interprets an item determines whether it is a primary or secondary source. 
  • A book can be treated as an artifact, documents can consist of visual elements, and visual materials are often considered to be documents.
  • Think of primary sources as the raw data for your research and consider this example:  Encyclopedias are usually considered to be classic reference sources.  However, they are primary sources to someone studying encyclopedias.

Finding primary sources at NYU and elsewhere

For a very thorough introduction to primary sources with an archival focus, see the Primary Sources research guide, as well as the "Using Archives and Manuscripts" section of this guide. Note that in the field of book history, a book (or periodical publication, or online source) can be both a primary and a secondary source, depending on your research focus.

Full-text databases for historic books and periodicals