Primary Sources are documents or objects which were created by individuals who actually experienced an event.
Examples include artifacts; audio-recordings; autobiographies; clothing; diaries; documentary films; digital recordings; editorials; essays; eyewitness accounts; fiction/works of literature (published at the time); government documents; interviews/podcasts; letters; manuscripts; maps; memoirs; memos; music; narratives; newspaper articles; paintings; photographs; public opinion polls; research data; speeches; statistics; twitter feeds/blogs/facebook posts; websites; works of art.
Secondary sources are produced by individuals who did not actually experience the event.
Usually secondary sources use primary sources and then add interpretation or synthesis.
Examples include biographies, journal articles, books (written after the event).
Tertiary sources are collections of primary and secondary source materials that are usually fact based.
Examples include almanacs, indices, encyclopedias, timelines, manuals, textbooks
The University of Illinois Library's Primary Source Village is a great place to learn about Primary Sources, their values and uses.
Tips for Searching for Primary Sources
From the Learning Commons catalog:
Use Advanced Search for more searching options.
Use the Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) in the pull-down menus that connect the search boxes.
Try using different combinations from the Examples list for search terms:
- diary and history
- letters and World War II
- speeches and history
- documentary and Vietnam War
- “eyewitness account” and holocaust
- “government documents” and Watergate
- photographs and “September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001”
- autobiography and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Type in search terms and do either a keyword or a subject search.
Use limiters such as language, publication date, version, or format.
Learning Commons Books/eBooks to Check Out
American Revolution : Primary Sources E203 .A577 2000
Daily Life through American History in Primary Documents (EBSCO eBook) E161 2012eb
The Medieval and Early Modern World : Primary Sources and Reference D101.2 .M34 2005
Slavery throughout History. Primary Sources HT863 .S56 2000
Research Databases for Primary Sources
Type in search terms and use limiters
Sort by oldest first
Universal Newsreels, Release 106, December 29, 1932
Academic Search Complete
Use Advanced Search
Select Primary Documents from Publication Type
Type in search terms
Search term: World War II
Results: The German surrender documents--WWII.
Illinois Digital Sanborn Maps
Select city, county and date
Public Opinion Polls
American research-based consulting company, founded by George Gallup in 1935, famous for its public opinion polls
Independent, nonpartisan resource on trends in American public opinion
Pew Research Center
"Numbers, facts and trends shaping your world"
Primary Sources Websites
Digital Public Library of America
DPLA brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world.
Library of Congress American Memory
broad collection of documents, images, film and ephemera covering all aspects of American history
Library of Congress Chronicling America
digital collection of American newspapers from 1836 to 1922 with a directory to information about American newspapers 1690-present
Library of Congress Manuscript Reading Room
manuscripts from over 30 collections reflecting a broad range of American history
Library of Congress Veterans History Project
personal histories of veterans of America’s wars from World War I to the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars
History Matters: Many Pasts – George Mason University
contains primary documents in text, image, and audio about the experiences of ordinary Americans throughout U.S. history
Biblion – New York Public Library
official corporate records of the 1939–40 New York World's Fair, from technological innovation and classical music, to pop culture
World History Matters - Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
portal to world history websites with access to primary sources
digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form
The Avalon Project
historical documents dating from ancient times to the 21st century
National Security Archive
independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University
UT-Austin's Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection
general interest and thematic maps of the world, both present-day and historical
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
special collections of oral histories, historical film, and photographs
Documents from the September 11, 2001 Attack on America
special documents from The Avalon Project
9/11 Memorial in New York City
information from the 9/11 Memorial
September 11 Digital Archive
digital media collection from the Center for History and New Media
Library of Congress, September 11, 2001, Documentary Project
photographs, written narratives, videos, and drawings from the American Folklife Center
September 11 Sourcebooks
primary source documentation from the National Security Archive