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Finding Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Type of Source Definition Examples
Primary Source
  • eyewitness account of an event/place etc...
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Autobiographies

If you answer, “yes” to any of the following questions, there is a good chance the source is PRIMARY.

  • Did the author personally witness or experience the subject in question?
  • Does the author know about this subject because of personal experience rather than having just read about it?
  • Is this source a diary, letter, memoir, autobiography, oral history, or interview of a person with first hand experience of the subject?
  • Is this source an official document or record published at the time of the event by the government, courts, or another organization?
  • Is this source a newspaper or magazine article written at the time of the event?
  • Is this a creative work such as a novel, poem, art or music piece created by a firsthand witness of the subject in question?
  • Is this an excerpt from a primary source, such as the Constitution or a letter written by a Civil War soldier that has been imbedded in a secondary source, such as a textbook? Remember, secondary sources may include reprints of primary sources.
  • Is this an artifact or relic such as jewelry, pottery, clothing, music, art, architecture, dance or weaponry that was used by witnesses of the subject in question?
  • Is this a compilation of raw scientific data or statistics, such as census statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau, that is being published without commentary or interpretation?

Searching in the Library Catalog

Try searching for these terms with your topic:

Sources Letters Journal
Diaries Speeches Autobiography
Documents Court Decisions Narratives
Correspondence Accounts Eyewitness

Need more resources?  Check out the Great Websites Resource Guide

Digital resources

  • Internet History Sourcebook
    Extensive collection of primary sources available online. There are sourcebooks focusing on different time periods and key historical subjects, including women's history, science, and African history.
  • Eurodocs
    Huge source of primary sources from ancient, medieval and modern Europe.
  • Eyewitness to History
    Eyewitness sources to historical events from ancient to modern history - both U.S. and Europe.
  • Hanover Historical Texts Collection
    Large collection of global primary sources listed by century and country.
  • Historywiz
    Collection of primary sources from ancient, medieval, early modern and modern periods.
  • The Avalon Project
  • Women in the World History
    Includes a wide range of both primary sources and background information on women's roles from ancient to modern periods. Provides extensive list of other sites on women's history.