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State Historical Society of Iowa


Research is the most important part of the National History Day process. Historians conduct research using two kinds of sources: primary sources and secondary sources.

Primary Sources

The Library of Congress defines primary sources as "the raw materials of history—original documents and objects that were created at the time under study." Primary sources provide multiple perspectives on your topic from people who experienced it firsthand. Examples of primary sources include:

  • Letters 
  • Journal or diary entries
  • Newspaper articles (from the time period)
  • Political cartoons
  • Maps
  • Photographs
  • Government records
  • Oral histories
  • Original film footage (if applicable)
  • Original audio clips (if applicable)

Secondary Sources

If primary sources are the raw materials of history, then secondary sources are the finished products. They are accounts of your topic that were created by people who did not experience it firsthand. Secondary sources provide descriptions, summaries, analysis and interpretation of your topic using primary sources as evidence. Examples of secondary sources include:

  • History textbooks
  • Books or monographs
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Newspaper articles (from after the time period)
  • Interviews with scholars or other experts
  • Documentary films
  • Podcasts

National History Day in Iowa Research Resources

Student Research Guide

NHD in Iowa's Student Research Guide provides a template for outlining your research, tracking sources, and finding high quality historical information! Click here to view a completed example student research guide.

Insider Tips Research Webinars

Insider Tips is a webinar series that outlines the NHD process from start to finish. The videos below highlight two important steps in the process: beginning your research and drafting your thesis statement.

How to Research and Begin the Annotated Bibliography - featuring Annals of Iowa Editor Andrew Klumpp, Ph.D.
Crafting a Historical Argument and Thesis Statement - featuring Annals of Iowa Editor Andrew Klumpp, Ph.D.

State Historical Society of Iowa Research Resources

Primary Source Sets

In partnership with the Library of Congress' Teaching with Primary Sources program, the State Historical Society of Iowa has developed over 50 free and downloadable Primary Source Sets that address topics in world, national and local history. You can sort and search for sets by subject, time period and grade level.

Digital Resources

Numerous indexes, records and publications in the State Historical Society of Iowa's collections are available online. You can access digitized maps, publications, newspapers, vital records and much more! Reference librarian Kelsey Berryhill explains how to best use these resources for NHD in this video.

Ask a Librarian

Are you researching from home? Have you found something in the State Historical Society of of Iowa's online catalog and need something scanned? Do you have a question about a source? Submit a reference request and ask a librarian for help.

You can ask a librarian for help in person, too! Learn more about visiting the State Historical Society of Iowa's research centers in Des Moines and Iowa City.