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Arts and Humanities Research Guide

Tools for finding primary source documents

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, statistics and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research.

RUSA (Reference and User Services Association)

For an overiew of the different types of sources see  Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources by the University of Maryland Libraries.

Search Terms

Sample keywords used to find primary sources in library catalogs;

  • correspondance
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • maps
  • personal narratives
  • pamphlets
  • pictorial works
  • speeches
  • sources

Book Catalogs & Collections

Online Archival Collections

Newspapers and Magazines