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HIST 1483 - History of the United States: 1492-1865

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is usually a record made at the time of an event by participants or by firsthand observers. Examples include:

  • contemporary newspaper or magazine accounts
  • books that contain personal writings such as diaries
  • government materials

Keep in mind a primary source might also be created many years after the event. For example, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln was originally published in 1953, long after Lincoln's death!

How Do I Find Primary Sources?
Check Footnotes, Bibliographies, etc. in Secondary Sources

Because historians cite their primary sources, look at their bibliographies, footnotes, endnotes, etc. to locate sources for your own paper.

How do I Find Primary Sources?
Library and Other Databases

  • For lists of primary source databases by format (books, newspapers, etc.) see this link.
    • Think about your topic and what keywords you can use to describe it. Try searching those keywords in databases that match the time period you are researching.
  • For lists of primary source databases by some popular paper topics, see this link.