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What is a Primary Source
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 (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
- Government documents
- Objects and artifacts
Good places to find references to Primary Sources
Reference sources may contain citations to repositories of papers or other primary material. The American National Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are good examples of such sources.
Bibliographies in scholarly books often arrange sources consulted by type. The language may vary but the arrangement is clear - primary and secondary, published and unpublished, manuscripts, letters, papers, archives, etc.
Footnotes in books and journal articles may refer to contemporary publications or other primary materials.
Find Period Books & Newspaper and Magazine Articles
Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800
The Evans, Early American Imprint collection is a searchable full-image primary source collection which features books, pamphlets, and ephemera documenting life in 17th- and 18th-century America. It includes materials relating to agriculture, foreign affairs, diplomacy, literature, music, religion, the Revolutionary War, slavery, temperance, and witchcraft.
Sabin Americana: History of the Americas, 1500–1926
Sabin Americana, 1500–1926 is digital archive of books, pamphlets, serials and other works about North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean the from the time of their discovery to the early 1900s.
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.
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.
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.
Early English Books Online
Early English Books Online is searchable full-image primary source collection which features books, pamphlets, tracts and ephemera printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales in British North America as well as works published in English printed elsewhere between 1473 – 1700.
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.
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.
Selected Primary Source Collections on the Web
American Memory Project
An electronic archive of materials from the Library of Congress
Virgina Center for Digital History
Several digital collections created by the University of Virginia including Valley of the Shadow and Virtual Jamestown projects.
Adams Family Papers
An electronic archive of the Adams Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society
Over 149,000 searchable documents, fully annotated, from the authoritative Founding Fathers Papers projects.
Find Images and Music
A searchable database of more than 1 million images, covering many time periods, cultures and disciplines. Users can search, view and download images.
Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound
Smithsonian Global Sound streaming audio database has more than 40,000 individual tracks of music, spoken word, and natural and human-made sounds from Smithsonian/Folkways and other record labels. Included are readings of literary and dramatic works, historic speeches, language instruction, natural sounds, environmental and mechanical sounds, sound effects, children's music, and traditional music from virtually everywhere in the world. Playlists can be created for personal or classroom use.
Find Primary Sources in Books
Search CLICsearch to find primary sources in books and ebooks. When searching, you will want to use specific words in your searches to single out the primary source materials. These words are specialized "tags" added to the records to books by catalog librarians to provide accurate descriptions of books. Using the following keywords in your search will help you find the source material you seek:
|diary or diaries
||songs and music
Primary Sources in Reference Works
Milestone Documents in American History
Contains primary source documents from the Revolutionary era to the twenty-first century. Each entry offers the full text of the document as well as an analytical essay that places the document in its historical context
Milestone Documents of American Leaders
Covers the lives of notable Americans and provides an in-depth study of the primary source texts they produced during their lifetimes; features presidents, jurists, and legislators to influential private citizens both past and present.