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WGS 200 Intro to Gender Studies (Martin Birky Spring 2017): Primary Sources (Historical)

What are primary sources?

"Primary sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or as witnesses....Some primary sources are written documents, such as letters, diaries, newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, autobiographies, treatises, census data, and marriage , birth, and death registers...(Some primary resources) are not written, like works of art, films, recordings, and interviews."

From Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007), 6-7.

Finding Primary Sources in the Library Catalog

The best way to find primary sources in the library catalog is by using Library of Congress Subject Headings, which often include the following words:

  • sources
  • diaries
  • correspondence
  • interviews
  • personal narratives
  • speeches
  • papers of..

However these subject headings are not intuitive, therefore it is best that you do a Keyword search for your topic and one of the words above. Examples:

  • women sources
  • nineteenth century women diaries etc.

Once you find a title of interest, open the record and link to similar sources by clicking on the appropriate subject heading.

Primary Sources on the Web

Digital Primary Sources: General

Primary Sources: Periodicals & Newspapers (ASU Only)

Digital Primary Sources Arranged Chronologically


  • Women in World History More than 200 primary sources, plus an essay on analyzing gender through primary sources.

Ancient and Medieval:

Early Modern:

  • Digital Scriptorium
    A consortial database of the complete medieval and Renaissance manuscript holdings of many libraries, with high resolution sample imaging from each manuscript.

18th and 19th centuries:

  • Making of America (MOA)
    An online digital library of primary sources relating to American social history from the antebellum to the reconstruction.
  • Women Working: 1830-1890
  • Created and maintained by Harvard University Library. It focuses on women's role in the United States economy and provides access to digitized historical, manuscript, and image resources selected from Harvard University's library and museum collections. The collection features approximately 500,000 digitized pages and images.
  • Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet
    The Special Collections Library at Duke University offers scans and transcriptions of a number of primary sources in their manuscript collection which document women's experiences in the Civil War. Site also includes links to photographs and prints in the National Archives and Library of Congress and links to other Civil War sites.

20th century:

  • Suffragist Oral History Project
    Developed and Maintained by UC Berkeley, the site provides lengthy transcriptions of interviews with twelve leaders and participants in the woman's suffrage movement.
  • Documents from the Women's Liberation Movement
    The materials in this on-line archival collection document various aspects of the Women's Liberation Movement in the United States, and focus specifically on the radical origins of this movement during the late 1960s and early 1970s.