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History Subject Guide

What is a Primary Source?

Scroll with Primary Source Documents written on it    

They are the original source - the first time something is said, done, written, or discovered.  They are the documents of something happening at the time that it happens.  Secondary works like books and articles analyze and interpret primary sources.  

 Some types of primary documents are:

  • artifacts
  • diaries & letters
  • newspaper reports right after an event
  • speeches
  • photographs
  • interviews
  • recordings
  • works of art, literature, and music

Gateway Websites

Online Primary Sources: World History

Online Primary Sources: Southern U.S.

Primary Sources in Libraries

To find primary sources collected in books, do a Keyword search in WorldCat that combines the name of a person, group, or event with words such as: memoirs, diaries, correspondence, papers, personal narratives, or sources.

For example:

  • George Washington and correspondence
  • Civil War and letters
  • Indians and treaties
  • Crusades and sources
  • Franz Kafka and diaries

Online Primary Sources: U.S. History