Primary sources are documents and records that were created at the time of an historical event or created by someone who witnessed or experienced that historical event.
Examples of primary sources include (but are not limited to):
Images and Art
Many of these items can also be secondary sources. The key distinction is when it was created or by whom in relation to the historical event.
Newspaper articles about the election of Susanna M. Salter who, when elected in 1887, became simultaneously the first woman mayor of Argonia, KS and the first woman mayor in the United States.
1. Newspaper article written in 1887 -- primary source, written at the time of the historical event.
2. Newspaper article written in 1961 when Salter died, describing her role in history -- secondary source, written after the fact, by someone who did not witness her term in office.
3. Newspaper article written in 1920 that included interviews with Salter and other residents of Argonia during her term-- the interviews can be primary sources because the people experienced the historical event.
Primary sources, including letters, papers, photographs, and other documents, can be published in books.
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:
Combine the primary source terms using the word OR (example: sources OR papers OR letters OR diaries)
These databases are good starting points for primary source materials. The “best” primary source databases in History will vary depending on your research question.
Reading the database description and the dates covered will help you decide which one to use.
We have many more databases with primary source materials. Find them by using the "Primary" tag on our databases page.
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.
These databases include primary sources like: