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HIS 141: African American History I

Ancient African Kingdoms to Reconstruction

What are Primary Sources?

"Primary sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or as witnesses."

(Quoted from: A Pocket Guide to Writing History, 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007)

Examples of primary sources, both print and online, include:

  • Official documents, reports and publications
  • Letters, diaries, memoirs, or published writings
  • Cartoons and advertisements
  • Newspaper or magazine articles written at the time of the event
  • Speeches
  • Autobiographies
  • Statistical data
  • Oral or transcribed interviews
  • Artifacts & realia
  • Maps
  • Audio & Visual Materials - Photographs, film & video, digitized collections, sound recordings

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Searching for Primary Sources in the library catalog

To search for primary sources in the library catalog, try subject terms such as:

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources

Subject term Examples:

If the person you are researching has written any books on their views or life (autobiography), try an author search.

Author Examples:

Selected books in our print collections

America's Historical Newspapers

Searching for Primary Sources in Issues & Controversies in American History

Issues & Controversies in American History - After you select the specific issue you are interested in, click on Primary Sources from the menu on the left.

Searching for Primary Sources in the EBSCOhost Databases

To search for primary sources in the EBSCOhost databases including: Academic Search CompleteHistory Reference Center, and MasterFILE Premier, type your search terms than select Primary Source Document from the Publication Type menu: 

Searching for Primary Sources in Gale Virtual Reference Library

Try the Gale Virtual Reference Library database for finding primary sources.


1. Click on the Advanced Search option.

2. When the Advanced Search screen appears, enter your keywords in the 1st search box.

3. In the 2nd search box, enter the term, primary sources, then select Publication Title from the 2nd menu on the left.

Searching for Primary Sources in World News Digest

World News Digest - From your search results, select Historical Documents from the Results By Type menu on the right to view primary sources.

Online Videos