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Education - Primary Sources: Primary Sources

Locating Primary Sources

Primary sources can be found in:

  • Collections housed in libraries or archives
  • Digital format through online databases
  • Freely available collections on the Internet
  • Published in books and microforms

For helpful tips on how to make effective use of primary sources, check out the "Making Sense of Evidence" website.

For even more information on using, finding, and evaluating primary sources on the web, click here.

Search Tips

To find published primary sources, add the following terms to your keyword searches with the word AND:




personal narratives

public records

letters or correspondence








   Egypt AND documents

   Lincoln AND oratory




What are Primary Sources?

A primary source is a document or a physical object that was written or created during the time under study by witnesses who experienced the event or condition first-hand.

Primary sources are the raw materials of history and include items such as diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, official records, autobiographies. Primary sources can also include creative works (poetry, drama, novels, art) or relics and artifacts (pottery, clothing, buildings, furniture).

Foundation tablet Nanaia Louvre (Wikimedia Commons)

What is a secondary source?

Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources and are one or more steps removed from the event that is being reported. Examples include journal articles, which interpret or review previous findings; textbooks, criticisms; encyclopedias; commentaries.

Subject Guide

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Eileen Wright
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Lib223 (Special Collections Room)