How to Find Primary Sources
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
A secondary source is one that interprets or analyzes an historical event. It is generally at least one step removed from the event.
scholarly or popular books
A primary source is a first-hand account of an event and was created during the time period being studied, or was created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied. A primary source can also be statistics, polls, or any sort of raw data from any time period.
|speeches||historical newspaper articles|
|plays or novels||artwork|
|data & statistics||maps|
Here are some things to remember when you're looking for primary sources:
- In order to analyze primary sources, you need to know the historical context of when a primary source was created.
- You should be aware of the point of view or bias. Two observers of the same event could have very different perspectives.
- Sometimes sources might not contain accurate or factual information.
- Understand historical usage of language. When searching for primary sources, be aware of the language used during the time period being studied and use those terms in your searches.
Where to Find Primary Sources
Here are a few databases and websites where you can find primary sources.
- The Library subscribes to the Historical New York Times, which covers articles from 1851 to 2008. It’s a great resource for any historical research you will do. The articles are in PDF format, which means that you will be reading an electronic reproduction of the article as it appeared in the original newspaper.
- The American Decades Primary Sources eBook collection contains oral histories, songs, speeches, advertisements, letters, newspaper articles, and more from the 20th century.
- The American Memory project is a collection of historical documents and materials assembled by the Library of Congress. The collections have photographs, maps, government documents and other examples of primary source material.
- The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preserves historically valuable archives of the U.S. government, including documents, photographs, images, maps, audio clips, letters, speeches, and films.
- Making of America circa 1840-1900 and Making of America circa 1850-1877, represents a major collaborative endeavor to preserve and make accessible through digital technology a significant body of primary sources related to development of the U.S. infrastructure.
- Museum and historical society websites like the Vermont Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institute often have information and resources related to items in their collections. Most have images, documents, or catalogs you can use to track down items.
- For data and facts, use the U.S. Census, the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Center for Education Statistics websites. You can find local data at the Vermont State Data Center, too.
- Conducting Primary Research (OWL at Purdue)