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History: Primary Sources

An introduction to important resources for doing research in History

Primary Sources


Primary sources are the evidence of history, original records or objects created by participants or observers at the time historical events occurred or even well after events, as in memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include but are not limited to: letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, maps, speeches, interviews, documents produced by government agencies, photographs, audio or video recordings, born-digital items (e.g. emails), research data, and objects or artifacts (such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons). These sources serve as the raw materials historians use to interpret and analyze the past. (

One of the best ways to find primary sources is via secondary sources (books and articles).  Primary sources, or excerpts from primary sources, may be reprinted and/or cited in secondary sources such as books and journal articles.  This is an excellent way to determine which primary sources will be most relevant for the research topic you are studying.

Encyclopedias and other reference works (tertiary sources) are especially helpful for finding primary source documents in history. So even as you are just starting your research, pay close attention to any primary source material that is being cited. 

Another way to find possible primary sources is via Sourcebooks. Hint: use the keyword "sources" or "sourcebook" when using OneSearch.

There are also many digitized primary source collections online, in addition to the library databases listed below.

Historical Newspapers & Newsmagazines

Primary Source Databases