Skip to Main Content

HIST 113 Early America in Global Perspective: Find Primary Sources

A guide for HIST 113 Early America in Global Perspective

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
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Video or motion picture recordings
  • Memoirs and autobiographies. 
  • Published materials (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
  • Government documents
  • Objects and artifacts
  • Artworks

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 The language may vary but the arrangement is clear - primary and secondary, published and unpublished, manuscripts, letters, papers, archives, etc.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

Selected Primary Source Collections on the Web


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

Founders Online
Over 149,000 searchable documents, fully annotated, from the authoritative Founding Fathers Papers projects.

Find Images and Music

Find Primary Sources in Books

Search LibrarySearch 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:

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


Primary Sources in Reference Works