How to Find Primary Sources in the Library and Online?
Comparison of Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Primary sources are contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question. These original documents (i.e., they are not about another document or account) are often diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, speeches, manuscripts, interviews and other such unpublished works. They may also include published pieces such as newspaper or magazine articles (as long as they are written soon after the fact and not as historical accounts), photographs, audio or video recordings, research reports in the natural or social sciences, or original literary or theatrical works.
Primary: First-hand account of an event, an original work
- Autobiographies, letters, e-mails, diaries, speeches, interviews
- Documents, laws, treaties
- Raw data that has been collected
- Works of literature, art, music
- Newspaper accounts of events, by someone on the scene
Secondary: A summary, interpretation, or analysis of something else
- Articles, books, biographies which summarize, interpret the original statements, documents
- Encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks
- Analyses of statistics
- Criticism — of literature, art, music
- Secondary accounts of events by those who compile and synthesize the original accounts
Primary Sources in the Millsaps Library
Britannica’s Original Sources
The site includes original source documents, critical selections and acclaimed works across U.S. and World History, Literature, Social Science, Political Science, Law, Science, Mathematics, Religion, Philosophy, and Language.
Millsaps Library Catalog
AUTHOR search: to find materials someone has written
KEYWORD search: combine a topic, keyword, or person’s name with any of the following — autobiography, personal narratives, letters, correspondence, diaries, or memoirs.
Tip: “sources” is the official subject sub-heading used in the Library Catalog to describe primary sources. e.g. The subject heading “Crusades–Sources” indicates the work contains primary sources on the crusades. You can do a keyword search for crusades and sources to find books that are printed transcriptions of original documents.
The Millsaps Archives contain official documents from the university’s past. Other special collections include primary source materials on Methodist history.
The Library has issues of local and national newspapers in microfilm dating back to the 18th century. See the Newspapers at Millsaps Library for more information about how to search the Library catalog for newspapers.
Government documents are also considered primary sources. A Library Catalog search will show which government documents the library owns. There are also many government documents located online at the following Web sites.
Primary Sources in Other Libraries
Many primary sources have been republished in books and other formats and may be found in other libraries. In addition, research libraries and institutions have special, rare collections of books, photographs, sound recordings, diaries, letters, advertisements, and many other materials. These are often found in archives and/or special collections sections of academic libraries.
Primary Materials Reprinted in Published Works
AUTHOR: search the author’s name to find materials someone has written
SUBJECT: the term “sources” is used as a subject sub-heading for primary sources
KEYWORD search: the following terms often lead to primary sources — autobiography, personal narratives, letters, correspondence, diaries, or memoirs. Archival materials generally will not be available outside of the owning library. However, most books and other publications identified in WorldCat (and not available in the Millsaps Library) may be borrowed via Interlibrary Loan.
Primary Materials in Archival Collections
Limit type to Archival Materials
AUTHOR: search the author’s name to find materials someone has written
KEYWORD search: the following terms often lead to primary sources — autobiography, personal narratives, letters, correspondence, diaries, or memoirs. Most books identified in WorldCat (and not available in the Millsaps Library) may be borrowed via Interlibrary Loan.
Primary Sources on the World Wide Web
Research libraries and institutions have special, rare collections of books, photographs, sound recordings, diaries, letters, advertisements, and many other materials. Recently some of these collections have been digitized and are available to the general public. The sites below include some notable examples of primary source materials avaialable online.
Provides over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955.
American Civil War Collections (University of Virginia)
American Memory Project
Digitized primary sources from the Library of Congress, and other collections, that document American history and culture.
American Memory Project; Performing Arts, Music
Sheet music, recordings, images, correspondence and other items in a number of collections
UC Berkeley’s rare books and special collections library. Includes documents from the Free Speech Movement and the Disability Movement.
Cornell Library Digital Collections
Includes the Making of America, math, agriculture.
Digital Scriptorium Projects
Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Duke University. Includes advertising, music, women, Renaissance, elections.
Electronic Text Center.
University of Virginia. Literature, economics, history, archeology, bibliography, religion, history of medicine, teaching, classics.
Library of Congress American Memory Collection
Includes more than 7 million items from the Library of Congress.
Making of America Project (University of Michigan)
A project developed by Cornell University and the University of Michigan. Provides digitized access to primary information sources describing American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. Currently includes 8500 books and 50,000 journal articles. Also available via Cornell University.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
The official depository for U.S. government materials. Select “Online Exhibit Hall” for interesting collections.
New York Public Library Digital Collection
Collections include performing arts, the Hudson River, the American West, African Americans
Profiles in Science. National Library of Medicine
Archival collections of prominent twentieth-century biomedical scientists.
Sunsite Digital Text Collections¼br /> A lengthy list compiled by the UC Berkeley Digital Library.
Tobacco Control Archives A collection housed at the University of California, San Francisco. Provides access to papers, unpublished documents, and electronic resources related to the tobacco industry and tobacco litigation.
Google To locate subject or topical databases: Combine any subject or topic with the word “database”
To locate a specific category of digital collections: Combine any subject or topic with the phrase “digital collections”
This guide prepared using:
CSU Stanislaus Library http://wwwlibrary.csustan.edu/gorenstein/helpguides/primary_v.htm
Yale University Library
Duke University Libraries