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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.

Examples include:


  •  Audio recordings (e.g. radio programs)
  •  Diaries
  •  Interviews (e.g., oral histories, telephone, e-mail)
  •  Journal articles published in peer-reviewed publications
  •  Letters
  •  Newspaper articles written at the time
  •  Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript)
  •  Patents
  •  Photographs
  •  Proceedings of Meetings, conferences and symposia
  •  Records of organizations, government agencies
  •  Speeches
  •  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.


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Julianne Haahr
278G Memorial Library

Phone: 608-263-1963