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Primary Sources: Home

A guide to assist you with defining and finding primary sources

What is a Primary Source?

A 'primary' source can vary according to discipline.

In historical research, primary sources are original written or physical items created in the time period being studied.  Books or articles that interpret or analyze a primary source are called secondary sources. Secondary sources include critical essays, encyclopedia articles, histories, textbooks, and reviews.

Primary sources (or primary research) in the sciences are original research studies usually found in published articles that include hypotheses, experiments, analyses, data, and a conclusion. Primary research can be found in all scientific fields, including the health sciences, psychology, chemistry, physics, biology, and the like. (See Primary Sources in the Sciences for more information.)

Examples of Primary Sources are:

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

Macdonald-Kelce Library, Archives & Special Collections

Primary sources are often found in an institution's Archives and Special Collections. The Macdonald-Kelce Library's Special Collections are located on the second floor. Here you will find books, photographs, ledgers, university journals, yearbooks, manuscripts, notes, and other ephemera that relate to the history of the University of Tampa and it's Library. Note: We currently have no University Archivist. Special Collections is closed for the time being. Please contact Director Marlyn Pethe with any questions: mpethe[at]ut[dot]edu.

You can search the Online Catalog for items in Special Collections by clicking "Post Limit" and choosing SPECIAL COLLECTIONS as the Location.

Many books in our general collection are primary sources or contain primary sources in them. Type in your search terms along with "primary sources," "correspondence," "interviews," "diary," or "documents" and you will find books like Women and the national experience : primary sources in American history / [edited by] Ellen Skinner and Theories and documents of contemporary art : a sourcebook of artists’ writings [edited by] Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz.

The library also has a historical collection of digitized student publications including the Minaret, the UT Journal, the Moroccan, and the Insighter Newsletter.

Finding Primary Sources Online (Open Access)

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

AD* Access:  (Duke University Libraries) "Over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian advertisements covering five product categories - Beauty and Hygiene, Radio, Television, Transportation, and World War II propaganda - dated between 1911 and 1955."

The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy: A digital document library by the Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library.

British History Online

Civil Rights Digital Library

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

Duke Papyrus Archive: "Provides electronic access to texts about and images of nearly 1400 papyri from ancient Egypt."

Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920: (Duke University Libraries) "Over 3,300 advertising items and publications dating from 1850 to 1920, illustrating the rise of consumer culture and the birth of a professionalized advertising industry in the United States."

Fashion Plate Collection (University of Washington Libraries)

Florida Memory (State Library and Archives of Florida)

Internet Ancient History Sourcebook (Fordham University)

HathiTrust Digital Library

Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Internet Modern History Sourcebook

Library of Congress

  • American Memory: "American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience."
  • Digital Collections: "A growing treasury of digitized photographs, manuscripts, maps, sound recordings, motion pictures, and books, as well as "born digital" materials such as Web sites."
  • Primary Source Sets
  • Primary Source Sets by State

Loeb Music Library Digital Scores and Libretti (Harvard University):  The scores and libretti in this Virtual Collection include first and early editions and manuscript copies of music from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by J.S. Bach and Bach family members, Mozart, Schubert and other composers, as well as multiple versions of nineteenth century opera scores, seminal works of musical modernism, and music of the Second Viennese School.

Making of America (through Cornell University & University of Michigan): represents a major collaborative endeavor to preserve and make accessible through digital technology a significant body of primary sources related to development of the U.S. infrastructure.

National Archives( The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever. Check out high quality reproductions of America's most important documents here.

Nuremberg Trials Project: A Digital Document Collection

OAIster Digital Archives Search(via OCLC) A selection of digital resources from open archives collections that represents multidisciplinary resources from more than 1,100 contributors worldwide.

Perseus Digital Library (Tufts University) Digital library of ancient Greek and Roman texts and images

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

U.S. Historical Documents  (University of Oklahoma)

Vintage Ad Browser


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Leslie Vega
Macdonald-Kelce Library
The University of Tampa
401 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33606

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