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History: Primary Sources

Guide to history resources

Primary Sources

Primary sources provide firsthand accounts or direct evidence to the event, person, object or place.  These sources are created by participants or witnesses of the event at the time it occurred or their experiences recorded later in the form of an autobiography, memoir or oral history. 

Secondary sources, however, provide a more critical analysis of an event, person or object that often interpret primary sources and refer to secondary sources created by other authors to help formulate a less personal account.

The "Finding Books" tab will help you discover primary sources, i.e. firsthand accounts of people directly involved in or who had witnessed an event.  Other primary sources can be found using the tabs for journal and newspaper articles, and statistical information.  This page highlights digital collections or works that contain primary source materials.  Examples of  types of primary sources are listed on the right side of this page.

Primary Source Documents in Reference Works

Primary Sources in Library Databases: General Purpose

Primary Sources in Library Databases: Africa and Middle East History

Primary Sources in Library Databases: American History

Primary Sources in Library Databases: British History

Primary Sources in Library Databases: World History

Primary Sources from the Internet

Citing Primary Sources

Types of Primary Sources

correspondence, diaries,
letters, manuscripts,
memoirs, pamphlets,
papers, personal narratives,
sources, speeches, statistics

Creative Works
art works, architecture, films,
maps, music recordings,
paintings, photographs,
poems, sculptures, etc.

Government Documents
law and legislation, treaties

Journal/Newspaper Articles
witnessed reported events,
reports that quote witnesses

News Sources
broadcast transcripts

Oral Histories and Culture
audio/video recordings,
folklore, storytelling,

Research Data
datasets, original research,
statistics, surveys

Types of Secondary Sources

based on primary works,
academic research on a subject,
analytical, interpretive,
biographies, dissertations

Journal/Newspaper Articles
non-witnessed reported events,
scholarly research on topics,
critiques or essays

Research Data
analysis of data,
interpretation of data

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