Find Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are original artifacts or documents. They offer contemporary accounts from participants or people directly involved in an event. To learn about secondary sources, see our Secondary Sources page.

Examples include:

  • Diaries and literary memoirs
  • Letters and correspondence
  • Artistic works (musical and visual)
  • News segments and transcripts
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Editorials
  • Legal documents and statistics

Why use primary sources?

Primary sources enable you to work with the raw material and draw your own conclusions.

How can I tell if something is a primary source?

The following questions can help you determine if you have a primary source:

  • Author: What is the author’s relationship to the material or event described?
  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the content?
  • Publication Date: Is the date of the publication close to the event described?

Where can I find primary sources?

Library Catalog

  1. Enter the type of primary source you’re looking for in the first box (narratives, correspondence, music scores, etc.)
  2. Change the drop-down menu next to the first search box from “Keyword” to “Subject”
  3. In the second box, type a related keyword (author, event, geographical location, etc.)
For example: You may type “narratives” in the first box and “Anne Frank” in the second box to look for Anne’s diary and related primary sources.

Library Databases

Articles and Newspapers:

News Transcripts:

  1. In the “All Nexis Uni” option category select “News”
  2. Under “Article Type” select “Broadcast Transcripts” and press “Search” to apply this filter
  3. Enter search terms in box and click “Search”
  4. Use options on result page to focus your results

Speeches and Interviews:

  1. Under “Search Options,” scroll down to the “Limit your results” section
  2. Under “Document type,”  select “Speech” or “Interview.” To search both simultaneously hold down the “Control” key when making your selection

Local Archives

Public Libraries

Government Websites

  • American Memory Project (a Library of Congress initiative): Offers a diverse collection in a variety of formats (prints, photographs, letters, reports, sheet music, recordings, maps, etc.)
  • National Archives: A huge collection of photographs, documents, reports, and more
  • Find legislative information and more

For more help with identifying primary sources, see the video below.