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HISTORY 201: The Historian's Craft: Race and Belonging in the Midwest (Fall 2020) : Find Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs or oral histories. They enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period to help them understand and interpret the past. (See definition from the American Library Association's Reference & User Services Association's History Section.)

Some examples of types and formats for primary sources include:

  • Books such as personal narratives, memoirs, and autobiographies, collected works, and collections of documents (these may be edited and published after the historical event or time period)
  • Journal, magazine, and newspaper articles 
  • Government publications
  • Archival sources such as diaries, interviews, letters, photographs, video recordings, and other media

Finding Primary Sources in Books (in the Library Catalog)

 Use the tips below to search the Library Catalog for books that contain primary sources.

  • Words in catalog records can identify an item as a primary source. Search for format related words like: advertisements, autobiographies, correspondence, diaries, documents, interviews, journal, letters, manuscripts, personal narratives, sources, speeches, etc. You can combine a primary-source format word with words describing your topic (e.g., letters and Lincoln or diaries and civil war).
  • To find diaries, letters, autobiographies, personal papers, etc., by a particular person, search for the person's name as an author.
  • Use the "Years" dropdown to filter results to those published during a period of time.
  • For more information about finding primary sources, see the Research Guides on this page.

Selected Primary Source Digital Collections

Below are several digital archives collections that may be useful in your research. If the topic you're interested in isn't covered here, please ask a librarian for help! This list isn't comprehensive and librarians are glad to suggest other resources.

Research Guides

See the Research Guides below for more information about primary sources. The Research Guides include many more online resources including ones with historical journals, magazines and newspapers and documents.

Finding Newspapers

Historical newspapers that could also be used as primary sources. Listed below are just a few of the databases holding historic newspapers. If these don't address your needs, this newspaper research guide has an entire page dedicated to finding Historical Newspapers.