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History - United States History: Find Primary Sources

What are primary sources?

Primary Documents were either created during the time period being studied or were created by a participant in the events at a later date, as in the case of memoirs.  Primary sources reflect the personal viewpoint of a participant or observer.  Primary sources enable a researcher to get as close as possible to what actually took place during a certain time period or an historical event.  A primary document might also be the specific text or material being studied, for example a work of fiction of a poem.

Types of Primary Documents:

  • Books
  • Photographs and images
  • Maps
  • Magazine and Newspaper Articles
  • Cartoons and Advertisements
  • Diaries and Journals
  • Movies, Videos, DVDs
  • Autobiographies
  • Interviews
  • Public Opinion Polls
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Research Data and Statistics
  • Documents produced by organizations
  • Documents produces by Government agencies, for example, congressional hearings and census records

Find primary sources in Centre's library

Find primary sources using Centre's catalog and these search tips:

Find books: Search the library catalog by topic and limit by date of publication.

Find autobiographies: Search the library catalog for the name of an individual as an author (last name, first). 

Find memoirs, diaries or collections of letters or interviews: Search the library catalog for the name of an individual as an author (last name, first) or search by subject and add the appropriate subject terms to the subject heading:  Correspondence, Letters, Diaries, Interviews, Personal narratives.  (Ex.:  subject keywords might be:  Japanese American interviews or Japanese American diaries). 

Find Speeches: Search the library catalog by names of authors or by subject and include -speeches indexes. (Ex.: Harry Truman speeches).

Find Pamphlets: Search the library catalog by subject and add the subject term -pamphlets. (Ex. Cold war pamphlets).

Find Photographs: Search the library catalog by subject and include the terms-photographs or -pictorial works. For example: world war 1939-1945 pictorial works

Find Cartoons:  To find books that discuss and reproduce cartoons from a specific time period, search library catalogs by subject and add the subject terms -caricatures and cartoons  For example:  -Spanish-American war caricatures and cartoons.  Search an article database that includes Historical Newspapers, such as the Historical New York Times database.


Primary Sources - Books

Primary Source Databases

Online Primary Source Repositories

Important General Repositories

Photo, image and film repositories

Presidential and Political Records

Women's Issues

African American History and Civil Rights

Other American History Repositories