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HSS 310 - The United States: Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary Source vs. Secondary Source

A primary source is a document that shows direct, immediate or firsthand knowledge of a subject or event. It is a document written at the time or on the scene where an event occurred.

Secondary sources are those writings without 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 have a great deal of knowledge about the topic. Writers often use primary sources in their writing of 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

Research Tip

Always do reading in secondary sources before looking for primary sources.  Often times, information in secondary sources will lead you to a primary source.  For example, an article in a reference book might reference a speech or letter written by the person you are researching.

Search the OWHL Catalog

             Primary Sources in the OWHL Catalog

                 

 

Do a keyword search for your topic and include the words primary source in your search string. For example: when looking for primary sources about Thomas Jefferson you should type Thomas Jefferson primary source into the search box.

Finding Primary Sources in Newspaper Databases