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HIST 115 The World Since 1900 Kurhajec: Finding Primary Sources

research guide for the DFC section of HIST115 with Kurhajec

Finding primary sources

What is a Primary Resource?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence created by participants and/or observers of a historical event or time period enabling researchers to get as close to the truth of what actually happened. Often, these materials are created at the time when the events or conditions occured. However, primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs and oral histories that are written or recorded later. 

Primary sources are characterized by their content not their format.  Therefore, primary sources can be found in published books, on microfilm/microfiche, in digital form or in their original format.

The following types of materials are generally considered primary resources:

  • Diaries or journals
  • Letters or other manuscripts
  • Speeches and interviews
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Video or motion picture recordings
  • Memoirs and autobiographies. 
  • Published materials from the time (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
  • Government documents
  • Objects and artifacts

Books

Search LibrarySearch to find primary sources in books and ebooks.   When searching the catalog, you will want to use specific subject headings in your searches to single out the primary source materials.  These subject headings are specialized "tag" added to the records to books by catalog librarians to provide accurate descriptions of books.  Using the following subject headings in your search will help you find the source material you seek:

correspondence literary collections 
personal narratives pictorial works 
songs and music sources
diary or diaries documents
interviews  

 

For example:  A researcher needs to find first hand accounts of soldiers experiences during the U.S. Civil War.  The most relevant subject heading for this search is:
 

United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861 - 1865 -- Personal narratives
 

It is a long and complicated subject heading to remember. However, a researcher can use the the recommended terms in a keyword search to get similar results.  For example:
 

"Civil War" and "United States" and "personal narratives"

U.S. newspapers

European newpapers

Magazine articles

The digital collections and indexes listed below can help you locate period magazine and journal articles published in the United States and Great Britain from the 18th through the 20th centuries.