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HIST 1320 Honors: U.S. History from 1877: Primary Sources

Dr. Duffy

Locating Primary Sources

The library has many databases that include primary sources.  Here's a list of databases containing many primary source documents

The list below includes several databases useful for a wide variety of historical topics.  If you don't see what you need, look at the link above or reach out to the library and/or your professor for some assistance.  

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources, for historical purposes, are most often defined as eye-witness accounts of events/historical periods. Those accounts written or created at the time, not with 20/20 hindsight.


These sources reflect the point of view of a participant or observer at a particular point of time. There are a wide range of source materials available for historical research. For example:

    • Magazines, newspapers, books, and pamphlets written and published during a particular time period
    • Diaries, letters, or papers usually written for personal reasons. Some of these may have been published later, usually after the writer’s death.
    • Reports and records such as census data or other government documents. 
    • Autobiographies and memoirs often written long after the events took place and therefore, may be somewhat less reliable.
    • Photos, audio recordings, movies, buildings, and other physical objects may also reveal information about the time period and popular culture

Compilations of primary sources such as a book containing many short excerpts from primary sources may not always be as useful as the original sources themselves.

Source materials may have a bias or purpose which you should be aware of. For example, an article from a northern paper during the civil war will read much differently than an article from a southern paper. When reading primary sources, think about why the piece was written, when it was written, and what it tells us about the writer and the time period.



Primary Sources-Video