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Primary Sources

Defining Primary Sources

Primary Sources

This guide is focused on finding primary source materials for historical research

What are primary sources in historical research? 

They are often referred to as "first hand" accounts or "original" records. They are the evidence historians use to build interpretations of the past. Most primary sources are created at the time an historical event occurred, while others, such as autobiographies, are produced long after the events they describe. Among the many types of materials that may be primary sources are: letters, diaries, speeches, newspaper articles, autobiographies, oral histories, government and organizational records, statistical data, maps, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings, advertisements, and artifacts.

Finding Primary Sources

Finding Primary Sources

You can use the library catalog to find primary sources in our collection. 

Try adding one of these keywords to your search . . .

Manuscript collections or archives of organizational records often include some of the following keywords in their titles or content descriptions. By including these words as keywords in a search, you have a better chance of finding collections of historical documents:

collection | papers |  archives | diaries | letters | account | narrative | personal | correspondence | autobiography

For example, 

  • Holocaust diaries
  • slavery "personal narratives"
  • World War II letters

*This same technique can be used in other search engines, like Google. 

Try searching by author . . .

When searching for primary documents on a person, try using the person's name as an Author search (LastName, FirstName). When correspondence is cataloged, the writer of the letter (your topic) is generally listed as the author of the collection. (Example: Warren, Robert Penn). This same strategy works for organizations.

A single point of entry with online access to descriptions of archival collections held by thousands of libraries, museums, historical socieities, and archives worldwide. 

Expansive born-digital and digitized collections of architecture, comics, illustrations, photography, prints, posters, and more. 

Knight-Capron Library has microfilm versions of several newspapers:

Resources for SPMG 275: History of Sport in America

Primary Sources: Sports

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