Skip to main content

HSS 542 - French Revolution & Napoleon: Primary Sources

Primary Source or Secondary Source?

A primary source documents shows direct, immediate or firsthand knowledge of a subject or event.  Primary source documents  are written at the time or on the scene where an event occurred.

Secondary sources lack direct knowledge of a topic or event. These include biographies, monographs, and general periodical articles. Secondary sources are written by people who did not witness or experience an event but may have a great deal of knowledge about the topic.

Historians use primary sources to develop secondary sources!

Primary Source Types

  • Autobiographies
  • Diaries/Journals
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Travel Accounts
  • Messages and Papers
  • Government Documents
  • Magazine/Newspaper Articles
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Other Non-Text Materials

Finding Primary Sources

You can find primary sources for this topic in three places:

  1. Books: the stacks, eBooks, and sometimes even Garver. Many of our eBooks and books in the stacks have primary sources in them. Look for words in the book's title like "a documentary history" or "sources." Also look for clues within the text like block quotes and distinct sections with a different author.
  2. Databases. Many of the databases you looked at in the Reference Sources tab have primary sources within them. Those with primary sources are relisted below. Try playing with search filters to make sure you are looking at primary sources in the search results.
  3. Websites. Below are a few websites with primary sources. Make sure to note the difference between any introductory text and the primary source itself.

If you're not sure if you're looking at a primary source, just ask a librarian for help!

Primary Sources in Databases

Primary Sources on the Web