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What is a primary source?

Primary sources are the ground-level evidence for any discipline. For the discipline of history that typically means first-hand accounts of the movement or era you are studying.

Examples of these first-hand events include: letters, diaries, newspapers, or other memorabilia.

Still confused? Check out this short (less than 4 min) video about the differences between primary and secondary sources.

Search the library catalog for primary sources

You can find primary sources in lots of places and sometimes others have done the work before you. Collections of interviews, journals, letters, or memoirs are all types of primary sources that you might find in our library catalog.

To search the catalog for primary sources on your topic, try using the subject search (su:) and include the phrase Sources.

For example if you are looking for primary sources on slavery in the United States, try searching for:

su:Slavery United States History Sources

In addition to using the phrase Sources, you could also try some of the following:

  • correspondence
  • description and travel
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • journal
  • letters
  • memoir
  • narratives
  • oral history
  • papers
  • photographs OR pictorial works
  • speeches

Where to start your search for primary sources