Case Study #4: The Shifting Popular Press
Looking back, secondary becomes primary
Because the role of newspapers is to report on the news, not create it, newspaper articles are generally secondary sources. The same is pretty much true of popular magazines.
Following are some examples of when newspaper and popular magazine articles can be primary sources:
- If you are studying the American Civil War, articles from the New York Times published during the war years (1861-1865) would be considered primary sources. They are a record of historical events (from the Northern perspective) written during the time of the event.
- Interested in how the advertising portrayed cigarettes in the 1950s? Study the advertisements from several years of Life Magazine from the 1950s and come to your own conclusions. The ads would be primary documentation.
- Studying alternative medicine? An encyclopedia of natural medicine published last year is a secondary source. A book of home remedies and herbal healing from the 1920s (either the original or a reprint) is a primary source. It provides a record of the time that you can interpret, rather than a book that someone else has interpreted for you.