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HIST 586 - Advanced Seminar in History

What Is a Primary Source?

"Anything that has been created by a person who witnessed or experienced an event as a contemporary would be a primary source. Examples of primary sources would include letters, diaries, autobiographies, and contemporary documents such as newspaper articles, government documents, and oral histories." --Tim Watts

Primary Sources in Books

Primary sources, including letters, papers, photographs, and other documents, can be published in books.

Find books with primary sources in Search It or WorldCat.org using the following search method:

1. Use an Advanced Search screen. This will provide multiple boxes to mix-and-match search terms.

2. In one box, enter search terms that describe your topic (example: Japanese Americans).

3. In second box, enter search terms that describe primary sources. Possible terms include:

  • sources
  • papers
  • letters 
  • narratives
  • diaries
  • records

Combine the primary source terms using the word OR (example: sources OR papers OR letters OR diaries)

Primary Sources in Databases

These databases are good starting points for primary source materials. 

We have many more databases with primary source materials. Find them by using the  "Primary" tag on our databases page. Each database includes a description so you can decide if the material is relevant to your research.

Best Bets

These databases cover a diversity of publications and time periods and are typically digitized copies of documents, so that you can see them in as close to their original form as possible.

Newspapers

Government

Peoples and Cultures

Audio-Visual Databases

These databases include primary sources like:

  • film footage
  • audio recordings
  • maps
  • images
    • art
    • architecture
    • textiles and fashion
    • weapons
    • daily objects (combs, dishes)