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Primary sources are anything created during the time period under consideration: published books; unpublished letters; photographs or drawings; music or song lyrics; clothing; objects of everyday life; etc.
Digital Primary Source Collections
Academic libraries and historical museums often try to digitize primary source collections held in their archives and special collections in order to make them available to the widest possible audience.
American Decades: Primary Sources by
Call Number: Click on the title above for online access.
Publication Date: 2003
Includes primary sources for each decade of the 20th century. Each volume includes a chapter of primary sources related to religion.
Using Organization Websites as Primary Sources
You can analyze and interpret the websites (or portions of websites) of organizations or advocacy groups as primary source materials.
Strategies for Identifying Primary Sources
- Aim for a variety of materials that will provide multiple perspectives on your topic. In practice, this means using a variety of search strategies and more than one repository or database.
- Consult the notes and bibliographies of recently published, good historical monographs and relevant scholarly articles.
- Use the author search function in Primo. You can use "corporate authors" to find writings published by government entities, businesses, or groups.
- Look for scholarly editions of primary sources, or for "documentary histories" that include a selection of primary sources accompanied by scholarly annotations.
- Use Library of Congress Subject Headings--especially the subheadings most frequently associated with primary sources.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for Primary Sources
Books in Primo are assigned Library of Congress Subject Headings. In many ways, subject headings are a form of tagging, in that they represent the content of the material and provide ways for you to efficiently locate more materials that are conceptually related.
Library of Congress Subject Headings are also quite useful for discovering primary sources. The following subheadings usually are added to indicate that the material is a primary source: sources, personal narratives, correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, or notebooks. Topics that generate heated debate may be cataloged with the subheading: controversial literature. Once you've discovered the subject heading for secondary sources, try adding one of the primary source subheadings to see what you find.
Newspapers & Magazines
Historians use newspapers as primary sources. Depending on their research questions, they may analyze all parts of a newspaper: articles, editorials, reviews, analysis, and advertisements.
New York Times Historical Newspaper This link opens in a new window
Includes full page images of the New York Daily Times (1851-1857) and the New York Times (1857-2017).
Nexis Uni (formerly LexisNexis Academic) This link opens in a new window
Includes full text (but not full image) of thousands of contemporary newspapers. Does not contain deep backfiles, though.
Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 This link opens in a new window
Contains comprehensive indexing of the most popular general-interest periodicals published in the United States.
Readers’ Guide Full Text Mega This link opens in a new window
Includes indexing as far back as 1983 and searchable full text of articles as far back as 1994. PDF page images of full-text articles provide access to illustrations, photographs and other graphical content from the original article.
Laws, Legislation, Court Rulings, Legal Literature