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HIST 150: Transatlantic Slave Trade (Spring 2024)

What is a secondary source?

A Secondary source is a work written about an event or person after it has taken place. Some examples:

  • Book
  • Academic Article
  • Biography
  • Most websites
  • Book Reviews
  • Media depictions (ex. films)

NOTE: not all secondary sources are peer reviewed. In fact, most are not.

Peer Reviewed Material

In History, peer reviewed materials are Books (sometimes called monographs) and Articles. 

Tips for determining whether a work is peer reviewed:

  • Who is the publisher?
  • Is it in a peer reviewed journal?
  • Did you limit your search to "peer reviewed" material in the database?
  • Who is the author?
  • Does it list its sources?

There is no 100% accurate way to ensure a work is peer reviewed, so always evaluate your sources.

NOTE Not all books in our collection are peer reviewed, or even factually accurate.


There are also a group of materials called "Scholarly Sources." This include peer reviewed materials, but also includes non-peer reviewed materials.

This may include:

  • Book Reviews
  • Encyclopedias & Handbooks
  • Documentaries (by professional historians)
  • Dissertations & Thesis
  • Conference Papers
  • Working Papers

These are all useful but are not peer reviewed and should not be used in this course

What is Peer Review?

Peer review grows out of the 18th century Republic of Letters and the Royal Society, in which papers were submitted & reviewed by scholars before presentation and publication.

Now peer review is a process by which academic work is evaluated and improved before publication.

An article or book is submitted for review to an editor, who then sends it to 2 or 3 external reviewers, who in turn provide feedback and comments. They return the piece to the editor with notes, who then sends it back to the author. This process may repeat.  This process improves the quality of a work, but also means publication takes Years after the work is written.

Steps of Peer Review (more-or-less):

  • Work is written by an expert.
  • Work is submitted to an editor. Editor may reject, suggest revision, or send out for review.
  • Reviewers (2 or 3) provide feedback, critiques, suggestions. They do not know who the author is. They may suggest revisions or reject the work.
  • Unless rejected, the work is sent back to the author for revision.  Author makes revisions.
  • Editor and reviewers re-review revisions. Decide if it should be published.
  • If accepted, goes to editorial team for clean-up, indexing, etc.

This process can take years.

Types of Secondary Sources

In Academe, we are especially interested in a specific type of secondary source: Peer Reviewed Publications.

But what's the difference between scholarly, peer reviewed, popular, or refereed?

Scholarly: A source written by an expert, but not subjected to the peer review process. 
Example: magazine articles (if written by expert), public presentations, reviews, opinion pieces, some podcasts.

Refereed: Academic work that has some level of vetting, usually by an editor or panel. 
Example: Conference papers, journal articles that are approved by an editor but not external reviewers.
NOTE: refereed is often used interchangeably with Peer Reviewed by databases, but it isn't always the same.

Popular: Written for a wide readership. May or may not be written by a subject expert.
Examples: newspaper or magazine, popular press books, websites.

Peer Reviewed: Academic books and articles written by a specialist, reviewed by other experts, and published by an academic press.
Examples: Articles in academic journals, some conference papers, books published  by university presses.