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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
- 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
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:
|songs and music
|diary or diaries
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"
New York Times (Historical)
This database provides you access to the complete content of The New York Times newspaper (1851 - 2008) including all articles, editorials, advertisements and photographs.
Washington Post (Historical)
This database provides you access to the complete content of Washington Post newspaper (1877 - 1997) including access to all articles, editorials, advertisements and photographs.
Minneapolis Star Tribune (Historical) 1867-2001
This database provides you access to the complete content of the Minneapolis Tribune, the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Star Tribune (1867 – 2001) including all articles, editorials, advertisements and photographs.
Chicago Defender (Historical)
This database provides you with access to the complete content the African-American newspaper, The Chicago Defender (1910-1975) including all articles, editorials, advertisements and photographs.
Pittsburgh Courier (Historical)
This database provides you with access to the complete content of the African-American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002) including all articles, editorials, advertisements and photographs.
Civil War Era
This database of Civil War materials provides you access to nearly 2,000 pamphlets and all articles from eight newspaper titles (3 from the North, 3 from the South and 2 from border states) dating from 1840 to 1865.
Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers
In this database, you will find full-text content and images from numerous newspapers from a range of urban and rural regions throughout the U.S. The collection encompasses the entire 19th century, with an emphasis on such topics as the American Civil War, African-American culture and history, Western migration and Antebellum-era life.
Guardian and The Observer (Historical)
This database provides you access to the complete content of the British newspapers, The Guardian (1821 - 2003) and The Observer (1791- 2003) including all articles, editorials, advertisements and photographs.
The Times (London) Digital Archive 1785-
This database provides access to a searchable full-text facsimile of The Times (London), the world’s oldest continuously published newspaper, from 1785 – 2010.
Sunday Times Digital Archive 1822-2016
This database provides access to a searchable full-text facsimile of The Sunday Times (London) newspaper from 1822 to 2016.
Irish Times (Historical)
This database provides you access to the complete content of the Irish Times newspaper (1859-2012) including all articles, editorials, advertisements and photographs.
British Library Newspapers
In this database you will find full-text content and images of 70 national, regional and local 19th century British newspapers including both liberal and conservative perspectives on the social and political developments of the times in which they were published.
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection
This database access to largest collection English news media from the 17th and 18th centuries. It includes more than 1,200 titles, including pamphlets, proclamations, newsbooks and newspapers.
Financial Times Historical Archive
The Financial Times Historical Archive offers the complete run of the London edition of the paper, from 1888 until 5 years ago.
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.
American Periodicals Series
With this database you have access to 1,500 magazines, newspapers and popular journal titles published in the United States dating 1741 through the 1930s.
British Periodicals Collection
With this database you have access to magazines, popular journals and other periodicals published in Great Britain dating from the from the late 1600s to World War II.
Women's Magazine Archives
With this database you have access to several popular women’s magazines published in the United States and Canada dating from the from the late 1800s through the 20th century.
Reader's Guide Retrospective
Use the Reader's Guide Retrospective index to locate articles published in popular press magazines and journals dating from 1890 to 1982.
C19: Nineteenth Century Index
C19: The Nineteenth Century Index is an index to primary source books, newspapers , government documents, periodicals, and archival collections relating to the 19th century.
American Antiquarian Society Periodicals
This database is a digital collection of American magazines and journals dating from 1684 – 1912.