Introduction to Historical Research : Primary Sources
This guide is an introduction to selected resources available for historical research. It covers both primary sources and secondary materials.
What are Primary Sources?
Primary sources were either created during the time period being researched or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being examined (as in the case of memoirs). They often reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period and can serve as evidence in making an historical argument.
- Audio recordings (e.g. radio programs)
- Interviews (e.g., oral histories, telephone, e-mail)
- Journal articles published in peer-reviewed publications
- Newspaper articles written at the time
- Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript)
- Proceedings of Meetings, conferences and symposia
- Records of organizations, government agencies
- Survey Research (e.g., market surveys, public opinion polls)
- Video recordings (e.g. television programs)
- Works of art, architecture, literature, and music
- Web sites
Primary Source Databases
Below are sample library subscription databases with digitized primary sources. More can be found on the Historical/Primary Sources page.
- American WestContains manuscript materials, broadsides, maps, and printed items documenting the history of the American West from the 18th century to the early 20th century.
- Black Abolitionist Papers, 1830–186315,000 articles and documents written by Black abolitionists during the antebellum period in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The contents include correspondence, speeches, sermons, lectures by African-American leaders; articles and essays published in African-American, abolitionist, and reform newspapers; and related documents.
- British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries 1500 - 1950A vast collection of British and Irish women's diaries and correspondence, spanning more than 300 years, it brings the personal experiences of nearly 500 women.
- Caribbean ViewsCaribbean Views draws from the British Library's collection of maps, manuscripts, printed books and newspapers relating to the British West Indies to conjure up a vivid picture of life in the English-speaking Caribbean during the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Library's holdings of material relating to the English slave trade and slavery are particularly strong.
- Defining Gender50,000 images of original documents from five centuries of advice literature and related material, from diaries, advice and conduct books, as well as articles from medical and other journals, ballads, cartoons, and pamphlets, all from Europe. Much of the material is British in origin.
- Early American Imprints, Series I. Evans (1639-1800)The Evans collection is a definitive resource for all aspects of American life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Based on the renowned American Bibliography by Charles Evans and Roger Bristol's Supplement to Evans' American Bibliography. With these bibliographies, Evans and Bristol attempted to identify all works published in America through 1800.
- Early Encounters in North America--Peoples, Cultures and the EnvironmentContains 1,482 authors and over 100,000 pages of letters, diaries, memoirs and accounts of early encounters.
- Early English Books OnlineEarly English Books Online (EEBO) provides full-text images of almost all the books printed in England and her colonies from the beginning of printing to 1700 (about 125,000 titles).You can search for books on your topic by author, title,and keyword, or search just for illustrations from these books if you wish. EEBO includes the items listed in Pollard & Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640), Wing's Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700), the Thomason Tracts (1640-1661), and additional supplementary materials. Gradually, searchable electronic text versions of a selection of these books are being added to the project. These searchable texts are called: EEBO-TCP, the Early English Books Online Text Creation Project. Eventually both EEBO and EEBO-TCP will be combined into one database. For now, in addition to using using Early English Books Online (EEBO), check EEBO-TCP if you want to do want to do keyword searching within an individual work.
- Eighteenth Century Collections OnlineAn online library of over 180,000 titles published between 1701 and 1800, and printed in English-speaking countries, or countries under British colonial rule. Includes books, pamphlets, essays, broadsides and more.The majority of works in ECCO are in the English language but there are also works printed in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish and Welsh.
Based on the English Short Title Catalogue
Works published in the UK during the 18th century plus thousands from elsewhere
- Electronic EnlightenmentContains correspondence between the greatest thinkers and writers of the eighteenth century and their families and friends, bankers and booksellers, patrons and publishers. It is an aggregation of 53,000 primary source letters from more than 6,000 writers and numerous presses.An ongoing scholarly research project of the University of Oxford and other universities and organizations, Electronic Enlightenment offers access to the web of correspondence between the greatest thinkers and writers of the eighteenth century and their families and friends, bankers and booksellers, patrons and publishers. EE is an aggregation of 53,000 primary source letters from more than 6,000 writers and numerous presses. Readers can explore writer's views on history, literature, language, arts, philosophy, science, medicine, and personal, social and political relations.
- Everyday Life and Women in America c.1800–1920Hundreds of monographs illuminating all aspects of family life. Also includes periodicals and pamphlets.Fully-searchable access to 75 rare periodicals ranging from Echoes of the South (Florida) and the Household Magazine (North Carolina) to Lucifer the Lightbearer (Chicago), The Heathen Woman's Friend (Boston) and Women's Work (Georgia). * A rich collection of rare pamphlets. * Hundreds of monographs illuminating all aspects of family life all of which have been screened against Gerritsen, Shaw-Shoemaker, and other relevant projects to avoid needless duplication. * Insightful contextual essays by leading scholars that will help to point students at valuable resources. * Strong coverage of prescriptive literature and manuals for domestic management telling us much about the organisation of the home.
- Gerritsen Collection: Women's History OnlineThe Gerritsen Collection includes books and periodicals from around the world which document the condition of women, the evolution of feminist consciousness, and women's rights.The Gerritsen Collection includes books and periodicals from around the world which document the condition of women, the evolution of feminist consciousness, and women's rights. More than 4,000 books and 265 periodicals in the collection are primarily in English with German, French, and Dutch-language materials strongly represented. Other languages included are Italian, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Slavic, and Scandinavian.
- Library of Latin TextsContains 3,200 works that are attributed to approximately 950 authors.The texts which are incorporated are selected by virtue of their having been edited according to best contemporary scholarly practice. Independent research is undertaken to verify facts relating to the text, such as the veracity of the authorial attribution or the dating.
- Nineteenth Century Collections OnlineNineteenth Century Collections Online unites multiple, distinct archives into a single resource, including a wide variety of previously unavailable primary sources ranging from books and monographs, newspapers and periodicals, diaries and personal letters, manuscripts, photographs, pamphlets, and maps.Initial archival modules include: British Politics and Society; European Literature, 1790-1840: The Corvey Collection; Asia and the West: Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange; and British Theatre, Music, and Literature: High and Popular Culture.
- North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral HistoriesProvides a unique and personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950. Composed of contemporaneous letters and diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives.In selected cases, users will be able to hear the actual audio voices of the immigrants. The collection will be particularly useful to researchers, because much of the original material is difficult to find, poorly indexed, and unpublished; most bibliographies of the immigrant focus on secondary research; and few oral histories have been published.
- North American Women's Letters and Diaries (Colonial to 1950)Provides a collection of published and unpublished women's diaries and correspondence, drawn from more than 1,000 sources, including journal articles, pamphlets, newsletters, monographs, and conference proceedings.
- Oxford African American Studies CenterOver 1,000 images, primary sources with specially written commentaries, and over 100 maps have been collected to enhance this reference content related to the African American experience.
- Past MastersProvides access to searchable full text databases of primary works, letters, journals, and notebooks from important philosophers and women writers. All titles are in the English language, either original as written or in translation.
- SixtiesThe Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, 1960 to 1974 documents the key events, trends, and movements in 1960s America.The Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, 1960 to 1974 documents the key events, trends, and movements in 1960s America vividly conveying the zeitgeist of the decade and its effects into the middle of the next. Alongside 70,000 pages of letters, diaries, and oral histories, there are more than 30,000 pages of posters, broadsides, pamphlets, advertisements, and rare audio and video materials. The collection is further enhanced by dozens of scholarly document projects, featuring richly annotated primary-source content that is analyzed and contextualized through interpretive essays by leading historians.
- Twentieth Century Advice LiteratureThis collection includes how-to books and guides; employee manuals, sorority and fraternity pledge manuals; scouting manuals; textbooks; commercial literature; and government manuals.Twentieth Century Advice Literature focuses on gender roles and relations, American consumerism, views of democratic citizenship, character development for children, changes in reaction to each major war (including World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam), class relations, and adjustments to new technology (such as proper manners when using the telephone, point-and-shoot camera, or e-mail). Included are how-to books and guides; employee manuals, sorority and fraternity pledge manuals; scouting manuals; textbooks that deal with home economics, health and hygiene, and sex education; teacher-training and course manuals; commercial literature that promotes specific behaviors; and government instruction manuals for a variety of workplaces and industries.
- Women and Social Movements in the United StatesDocument projects that interpret and present materials, many of which are not otherwise available online, in U.S. history and U.S. women's history.
278G Memorial Library
Subjects: History - General / Worldwide, Western Europe