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World History: Primary Sources

What IS a primary source in History?


Often referred to as "first hand" accounts or "original" records, primary sources are the evidence historians use to build interpretations of the past. 
Most primary sources are created at the time an historical event occurred, while others, such as autobiographies, are produced long after the events they describe.
Here are some examples:

maps oral histories artifacts
letters diaries speeches
newspapers autobiographies government records
statistical data photographs motion pictures
sound recordings advertisements  

 

Video sources

For more recent historical topics (20th century topics), documentaries and personal interviews can serve as excellent primary sources.  Remember, in a primary source the person speaking on the event or topic must have experienced it directly themselves.  

Citing Reprints

The Library of Congress provides some examples of citing various primary source types from their collections:

Published Primary Source Collections

Depending on the topic, you may find a collection of historical primary sources that have been translated into English and published as a recent book.  Keep in mind that these collections may also include introductions, commentaries, and other secondary sources as well.  

Tips for searching for primary sources

Add the primary source type as a keyword in your search. It may look like this: 

"nuclear arms" sources
slavery "personal narratives"
Lyndon Johnson diaries
Ancient greek military maps
"World War II" "primary sources"
"FDR" "speeches"

You can see there are "" marks around phrases or specific names of events.

Places to find primary sources IN Assumption's Library

There is no single comprehensive database of primary sources, you may need to explore different strategies for locating resources. Here are some databases that do have primary sources as part of their holdings:

Places to find Primary Sources OUTSIDE the library