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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.

Finding Primary Sources in Newspaper Databases

ALWAYS use the date range feature when searching for primary source newspaper articles.  An article is only a primary source if it was published at the time in which an event took place.

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.

Primary Sources in Reference Books

Some reference books include sections with primary source material.  All of these books are located in the Garver Room.