HIST 586 - Advanced Seminar in History

These pages provide links and instruction useful for completing assignments in HIST 586 - Advanced Seminar.

Library Research Guide

What Is a Primary Source?

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):


  • diaries
  • legal documents & government records
  • letters
  • newspapers

Audio Visual

  • newsreels
  • oral histories

Images and Art

  • maps
  • political cartoons
  • paintings
  • photographs

Material Culture

  • clothing
  • furniture
  • tools
  • consumer products

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 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. 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.

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.



Peoples and Cultures

Time Periods

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)