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

Professor Deirdre Lannon, Ph.D.

Primary Sources-Video

Locating Primary Sources

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

If you are using one of the topics in Dr. Lannon's list, here are some suggestions of primary source databases, paired with specific topics-


Historical Newspapers

Good place to find newspaper articles from major papers across the U.S. for all topics on Dr. Lannon's list.  

Discovering Women's History Online

Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), civil rights,

Race Relations in America

Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Harlem Renaissance,great depression/new deal

American Civil Liberties Union Papers

Japanese Internment during World War II, civil rights, McCarthyism, Red Scare, Sacco & Vanzetti

Hispanic American Newspapers [Spanish Language]

Bracero program, Chicano movement, civil rights

LGBT Thought & Culture

Stonewall Riot & Pride Movement, civil rights

Popular Culture in Britain & America, 1950-1975

Equal Rights Amendment, McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Cuban Missile Crisis, Stonewall Riot, civil rights

American Periodicals Series

Knights of Labor/Amer. Federation of Labor, Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Great Depression/New Deal, Sacco & Vanzetti, Jim Crow laws

Reader's Guide Retrospective - (Magazine articles on most topics from 1900-1982)

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.