Skip to main content

History: Primary Sources

A guide to help you locate books, scholarly articles, and primary sources as well as citation guidelines related to historical research.

What Is A Primary Source?

Primary sources are original written or physical items created in the time period being studied. Historians use primary sources as the evidence about the past from which they build their historical scholarship. The book or article written by the historian is the secondary source which has been based on analysis of primary sources.

Examples of Primary Sources are:

• Artifacts
• Ephemera (theatre programs, leaflets, posters, broadsides, etc.)  
• Government or Institutional Records
• Speeches
• Photographs
• Diaries
• Maps
• Correspondence
• Original Works of Art (plays, manuscripts, paintings, musical compositions, etc.)
• Personal records
• Newspaper or Magazine articles published at the time under question

Locating Primary Sources

Learn more about Primary Sources in the library databases in our guide.

The links below are a sampling, and by no means exhaustive list, of online resources which provide access to primary source documents.

British History Online

Civil Rights Digital Library

Dying Speeches and Bloody Murders: Crime Broadsides (Harvard Law Schools Library) 

Fashion Plate Collection (University of Washington Libraries)

Florida Memory 

Internet Ancient History Sourcebook (Fordham University)

HathiTrust Digital Library

Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Internet Modern History Sourcebook

Library of Congress

National Archives

Nuremberg Trials Project: A Digital Document Collection

Perseus Digital Library (Tufts University)

PALMM - Publication of Archival, Library, & Museum Materials  (State University Libraries of Florida)

U.S. Historical Documents  (University of Oklahoma)

Vintage Ad Browser