HIST 7B: The United States Since the Civil War

Locating Primary Sources

Historians rely on original or primary sources and the writings of other experts to formulate and support their scholarly arguments.

"Primary sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or as witnesses."
           Mary Lynn Rampolla. A Pocket Guide to Writing History, Fifth Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007. p.6

Examples of primary sources include:

* Official documents, reports, records, and publications
* Letters, correspodence, diaries, memoirs, or published writings
* Newspaper or magazine articles or advertisements
* Speeches
* Autobiographies
* Statistical data
* Oral or transcribed interviews
* Films, images, or artifacts

There are many access points to the vast collections of primary sources available to you.

Certain words and phrases will find primary sources in library catalogs.  You can use these in OskiCat or Melvyl:

advanced keyword search -correspondence
-personal narratives
-early works to 1800

For specific search strategies, see the Library's guide to Finding Historical Primary Sources.

Your searches will be more successful if, in your preliminary research, you identify specific:

  • names of relevant individuals and organizations
  • dates of events
  • places
  • what terminology was used at the time by participants and observers? (ex: negro or colored instead of african american)

Primary sources may appear in any one of several formats:

* In their original form, i.e. newspapers, magazines, personal papers, etc.
* Photographed on microilm or microfiche
* Digitized, in a growing number of collections, e.g. America's Historical Newspapers
* Transcribed and published as a single volume or in multiple volumes, e.g The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers (2v., 2008)
* Excerpted in a secondary source


Last Update: June 25, 2014 11:30