HIST 320 - History of Technology

This guide will help students enrolled in History of Technology to research topics related to the development of technologies.

Library Research Guide

What is a Primary Source?

Tim Watts

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

Content Development Librarian
K-State Libraries

Primary sources can take many forms, including books, diaries, maps, photographs, advertisements, newspapers, films, and more.

Most of the primary sources you need for your research will in books or digitized online in databases or digital archives.

Primary Sources in Books

Find books that include primary sources by searching Search It, HathiTrust, or WorldCat.

  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: Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition).
  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 in the second using the word OR (example: sources OR papers OR letters OR diaries). OR tells the database that you want any of the terms.

Primary Sources in the Libraries Databases

K-State Libraries purchased or subscribes to many primary source databases that you can access from the Libraries' website.


Below are a sample of relevant primary source databases. You can find others through K-State Libraries by using the  "Primary" tag on our databases page.


Reading the database description and the dates covered will help you decide which one to use.

Magazines and News

These databases include many popular and widely read news sources. The articles can help you understand the impact of different technologies and the how social issues were addressed in the media.

Books and Pamphlets

These databases include digitized copies of books and pamphlets covering hundreds of years. If you learn about a book or other publication while researching, particularly those published in the U.S. before 1926, you may find a digitized copy in these databases. 

Images of Art, Technologies, and other Cultural Objects

Use Artstor to find a good, high quality image of a technology, work of art, or other cultural objects.

How to Search for Primary Sources

Search Tips:

  1. Mine the books and articles (secondary sources) relevant to your topic. A high quality secondary source should always tell you where to find the primary sources they used in their research.
    • Read the bibliography and footnotes, looking for items with a publication date related to your event, technology, or social issue. Check in Search It or WorldCat for the title.
    • Look for any images that are reproductions of articles, advertising, pictures, or other primary sources. Where did the author find them?
  2. Create a list of possible terms to search for, add to that list as you learn more about your topic. These can include:
    • People's names
    • Locations
    • Organizations
    • Product types, company names, or product names (e.g. typewriter, E. Remington & Sons, Remington No. 1)
  3. Use dates to focus your search on relevant primary sources. Create a list of relevant specific dates, date ranges, or names for eras (e.g. 1944, 1939-1945, World War II, Second World War).
  4. Search using the language and terms used during the event you are studying. Primary source materials are historical and cultural and use words and phrases that might be particular to that time or cultural group. A database or website is more likely to find sources that match your search if your language matches the language used in the documents. 
  5. Because primary sources are records of particular times, places, and people, you may encounter language and images that are offensive. We do not condone the language and images, but do recognize that they are part of our history and provide insight into the lives of people and cultures.