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Primary Sources

A Library Subject Guide

Search Tips

Determine keywords for your research topic. Avoid sentences or long phrases:

  • "civil war" AND Gettysburg

Next, determine the type of historical primary sources you need:

  • newspapers, magazines, photographs, artwork, etc.
  • diaries, letters, interviews, autobiographies, etc.
  • statistics, official records, legislation, law codes, etc.

Depending on the type of primary source you need, you may be able to search in specific databases for them, such as Newspapers.

You can also add keywords for your primary source materials to your search:

  • diaries OR memoirs OR personal narratives

Your entire search might look like this:

  • "civil war" AND Gettysburg AND (diaries OR memoirs OR personal narratives)


These are some more general websites with collections covering a variety of topics, additional primary source collections can be found for your topic through Google.


Newspaper articles can be primary sources if they are of the time period that you are researching on.


Evaluating Primary Resources

When you've found sources, it's time to examine them to ensure that they're helpful for your research.

1. Who is the author/creator? Do they have any biases?
2. What is the content? Was it created with a specific audience in mind?
3. Is it relevant to your topic? What does it answer about the time period?
4. What is the context? What is the significance at the time it was created? How does it connect to other sources you've found?
5. Has it been edited or translated? Has it been altered from the original?
6. Conclusions? What do you learn about the time period from using this source? Does your understanding of the source fit with other scholars’ interpretations, or does it challenge their argument?

The University of California, Irvine's History Project has a worksheet here to aid in primary source analysis.