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Finding Primary Sources
It's not always easy to say what a primary source is; be sure to check with your professor and discuss just what might be considered primary source material for the purpose of your research. Generally, primary source materials are considered to be those things--speeches, articles, diaries, news reports, movies, music, and other media--produced at the time of the events you are investigating. The material produced after the fact to explain or explore an event is generally referred to as secondary source material. Remember though that something that you might generally consider a secondary source can be a primary source depending on how you approach it.
To identify primary sources from different time periods and to learn a little bit about them consult the Dictionary of Historic Documents. The Library of Congress has a guide on Finding Primary Sources and a Primary Source Analysis Tool that may be helpful.
Primary sources on the web may be transcripts or reproductions of original documents. It's as important to evaluate primary sources on the web as secondary ones. You should be sure the documents you find have been made available by a reputable source. There should be some statement about the source of the original document, about the process that was used post it, and about who is responsible for making the document available.
Our Electronic Resources page has a separate section for Primary Sources. Depending on your research project, you may also want to consider Audio & Video resources as well. From the guide page you are reading now, you can use the links you can pull down from the Primary Sources tab above, or follow the links provided here for more on primary source material from
You might also want to look at the guide page on Government Documents, which talks about finding historic publications from federal sources.
Many of the primary resources you locate will be available on the library' shelves or through our databases; for those that are not, you can request an Interlibrary Loan. See our Interlibrary Loan pages for more information and to place a request.
You may want to look at sources like the Hutchinson Chronology of World History (Ref. D11 .M39 1999) for useful contextual information. These may provide you with the kind of background information that will help you develop a more complicated reading and a more sophisticated approach to your primary material.