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 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.
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.
Publication Dates Covered: 1740-1940 Paid for by K-State Libraries
Contains periodicals published between 1740 and 1940, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children's and women's magazines and many other historically-significant periodicals. Includes graphic elements and article layouts.
Publication Dates Covered: 1786 - 1955 Paid for by K-State Libraries
Archives Unbound presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents. Particular strengths include U.S. foreign policy; U.S. civil rights; global affairs and colonial studies; and modern history.
Gale Primary Sources
Publication Dates Covered: 1500 - 1955 Paid for by K-State Libraries
Primary Sources allows users to search multiple primary source databases, ifor example, Archives Unbound, British Library Newspapers, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Nineteenth Century Collections Online, Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, Sabin Americana, 1500 - 1926, the Times Digital Archive, and almost 20 other databases.
HathiTrust Digital Library
This is the go-to source for primary sources! Digitized collections from major research libraries around the world.
Publication Dates Covered: 1500-1926 Paid for by K-State Libraries
Search Joseph Sabin’s bibliography of works on life and culture in North America from 1500 to 1926. Includes more than 29,000 full-text works, books, pamphlets, broadsides, and serials on topics such as Native Americans, agriculture, slavery and abolition.
National Archives and Records Administration’s Online Public Access
Provides online access to millions of records, maps, photos, and documents held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the nation’s official record keeper. Note: This database is currently being developed by NARA. It will eventually replace NARA’s Archival Records Catalog and perhaps its Access to Archival Databases system. At present, it does not include all the content available through those systems. For more information about its scope, see NARA’s About Online Public Access page.
Peoples and Cultures
Paid for by the State Library of Kansas
Discover your family's military past. You can search names, dates, places, publication names, conflict periods, document types, and more.
Genealogical research materials, include the U.S. census going back to 1790 and local and family histories.
North American Indian Thought and Culture
Autobiographies, biographies, Indian publications, oral histories, personal writings, photographs, drawings, and audio files.
Artstor Paid for by K-State Libraries system requirements permitted uses
A growing digital image library offering searchable collections of images and descriptive information, encompassing many time periods and world cultures. Includes objects relevant to fields such as architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, design, anthropology, history, ethnographic, and women’s studies; and addresses many other forms of visual culture. Best viewed in Internet Explorer. Enable browser pop-ups in order to use all the features of Artstor.
Each individual user of Artstor is limited to 200 downloads per day.
Women and Social Movements in the United States 1600-2000: Basic Edition
Publication Dates Covered: 1600-2000 Paid for by K-State Libraries
Examines perspectives on women’s social movements from colonial times to the present. Brings together books, images, documents, scholarly essays, commentaries, and bibliographies, documenting the multiplicity of women’s activism in public life.
Eighteenth Century Collections Online
Publication Dates Covered: 1701-1800 Paid for by K-State Libraries
Includes eighteenth century collections on history and geography, social sciences, religion and philosophy, fine arts, literature and language, law, medicine, science, and technology. Users can view digital page images; full-text searchable.
Nineteenth Century Collections Online
Publication Dates Covered: 1800-1900, with some exceptions Paid for by K-State Libraries
Collection of primary materials from the 19th century on all kinds of topics. Fully searchable documents, books, images, maps, and other types of materials. Societies from around the world are profiled, as well as issues such as women’s rights, science, technology, politics, and business.