Answered By: Library Staff
Last Updated: Jun 22, 2017     Views: 1222

If you were looking for information on Primary sources in the Sciences, see our FAQ item for that.  This FAQ is for the subject of History.

Primary Source Defined:

In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called original source or evidence) is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. If created by a human source, then a source with direct personal knowledge of the events being described. It serves as an original source of information about the topic. 
                                   - Wikipedia:

There is a shortcut method for finding a book in our library that is a primary source: conduct a keyword search in OneSearch with the following format:

 Subject term(s) and (narratives OR correspondence OR diaries OR interviews OR memoirs)

Paste your search string into the keyword search of the OneSearch

Screen shot of a library catalog search on the library homepage
This is not a perfect search strategy; look though the results carefully for the primary sources. Below are some example searches (but you are free to formulate one for your own favorite historical topic).

Be sure to look though the results carefully for the primary sources. Also, some simpler searches yield a large number of books which are primary sources: 

You still need to look through the results carefully to pick out the primary sources.  Also, if you are studying an historical perod where the primary documents were not in modern English, you will need to check with your instructor if translations into modern English are allowed.

You can also find many primary sources on the web; see the website ALA | Using Primary Sources on the Web

Also see Guide to Online Primary Sources, a website from the University of California, San Diego. Provides extensive lists of mostly free primary sources covering activism, arts, business, California, ethnic studies, government/law, U.S. history, world history, Jewish studies, literature, maps, medieval, military, newspapers, religion, sciences, sexuality, women and video.


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