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HSS 595 - Fashion in History: Primary Sources

Finding Primary Sources


Primary sources are documents or objects that reveal first hand knowledge of a person, place, event or time in history. Many primary sources will be found in secondary sources. You should look through any useful secondary sources you've found and check the bibliography to find primary sources examined in those works.


Keep in mind that while actual clothing, textiles, and images will represent a large trove of primary sources for this course, written materials like newspaper and magazine articles, and even autobiographies and diaries from the time period could be good primary sources, too. Works of visual art can be tricky to cite, so ask a librarian if you need assistance.  We are here to help!


Image: Traditional Cameroonian Wedding Apparel (

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Finding and Identifying Primary Sources

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. These include: 

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

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!

Databases with Primary Sources

Websites with Primary Sources