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Potomac State College

HIST 200: Practicing History (Vietnam War)

A guide for Cassandra Pritts's Fall 2019 HIST 200 class, helping students find sources on the Vietnam War.

Finding sources on the Vietnam War

If you're not sure where to begin with your topic, please don't hesitate to reach out to the Library for helping in identifying appropriate places to search for sources.

Our hours are posted here:

During our open hours, we can be reached in person at the front desk, by phone at 304.788.6901, or you can send us an email at any time either to myself ( or our library director ( We're happy to help!

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Choosing a topic around the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War is a historically contentious conflict. It lasted for 19 years and involved multiple countries fighting by-proxy. For a general overview of the Vietnam War, Wikipedia is a reliable source. However, you should not cite Wikipedia for the same reason you wouldn't cite any other encyclopedia for your research assignments in college. It is a tertiary source reviewing primary and secondary sources -- and you are now budding scholars who should be critically reading and analyzing primary and secondary sources for yourself.

Understanding the difference in primary and secondary sources

Your instructor wants you to use a mix of primary and secondary sources in your research assignment. It is critical you understand the difference.

The following was adapted from "Primary sources: A research guide" by Healey Library (UMass Boston):

Primary Sources

Primary Sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic, from people who had a direct connection with it. Primary sources can include:

  • Texts of laws and other original documents.
  • Newspaper reports, by reporters who witnessed an event or who quote people who did.
  • Speeches, diaries, letters and interviews - what the people involved said or wrote.
  • Original research.
  • Datasets, survey data, such as census or economic statistics.
  • Photographs, video, or audio that capture an event.

Secondary Sources


Secondary Sources are one step removed from primary sources, though they often quote or otherwise use primary sources. They can cover the same topic, but add a layer of interpretation and analysis. Secondary sources can include:

  • Most books about a topic.
  • Analysis or interpretation of data.
  • Scholarly or other articles about a topic, especially by people not directly involved.
  • Documentaries (though they often include photos or video portions that can be considered primary sources).

When is a Primary Source a Secondary Source?

Whether something is a primary or secondary source often depends upon the topic and its use.

A biology textbook would be considered a secondary source if in the field of biology, since it describes and interprets the science but makes no original contribution to it.

On the other hand, if the topic is science education and the history of textbooks, textbooks could be used a primary sources to look at how they have changed over time.

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

Bradstreet_first_edition.jpg   Academic Journal cover

Primary Sources


Secondary Sources

Artwork   Article critiquing the piece of art
Diary   Book about a specific subject
Interview   Biography
Letters   Dissertation
Performance   Review of play
Poem   Treatise on a particular genre of poetry
Treaty   Essay on a treaty