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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
Primary Source Types
Messages and Papers
Other Non-Text Materials
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.
You can find primary sources for this topic in three places:
Books. Many of our E-Books 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.
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.
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!
This is a primary source-centric database that covers American history from the 19th century through the early 20th century. Search for newspapers, eyewitness accounts, and more for events such as the Civil War, women's suffrage, and the abolitionist movement. It also contains a collection of African American newspapers from 1827-1909.
This database contains over 1,100 periodicals that first began publishing between 1740 and 1940, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children’s and women’s magazines, and many other historically-significant periodicals.
Search and read full text articles from 28 historical newspapers:
• The Atlanta Constitution (1868-1984)
• Atlanta Daily World (1931-2003)
• The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988)
• The Baltimore Sun (1837-1987)
• The Boston Globe (1872-1984)
• Chicago Defender (1909-1975)
• Chicago Tribune (1849-1992)
• The Christian Science Monitor (1908-2003)
• Cleveland Call and Post (1934-1991)
• Detroit Free Press (1831-1922)
• The Guardian and The Observer (1791-2003)
• Hartford Courant (1764-1990)
• Indianapolis Star (1903-1922)
• The Irish Times and The Weekly Irish Times (1859-2015)
• Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005)
• Los Angeles Times (1881-1989)
• New York Amsterdam News (1922-1993)
• New York Times (1851-2014)
• New York Tribune (1841-1922)
• Norfolk Journal and Guide (1916-2003)
• Philadelphia Tribune (1912-2001)
• Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002)
• San Francisco Chronicle (1865-1922)
• The Scotsman (1817-1950)
• The St. Louis Post Dispatch (1874-1922)
• The Times of India (1838-2007)
• The Wall Street Journal (1889-1999)
• The Washington Post (1877-1999)
This digital archive of primary sources provides access to a wide variety of documents, from personal narratives, pamphlets, addresses, political speeches, monographs, and sermons to plays, songs, poetic and fictional works published between the 17th and late 19th centuries.