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Primary Sources: A Research Guide for Students

A research guide to help students locate primary sources in the library's databases and beyond.

What is a Primary Source?

Please note that this guide is still in development. Check back regularly for updates!

Essentially, a primary source is evidence of the past. This includes but is not limited to artifacts, ephemera, documents, and other types of evidence of an event or time period created by first-hand witnesses. 

Examples of Primary Source evidence: a diary; a letter; a photograph; a manuscript; original works of art or literature; data; organizational records;  a map; newspaper articles; a passport; a home movie; and interview; an audio recording; material culture, etc.. Documents such as the U.S. Constitution, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Declaration of Sentiments are also primary sources. 


As scholars and students, we look at primary sources when we are trying to make sense of an historical event, a person, or a time period. Primary sources help us contextualize the people, places, and events we research and write about and help us make sense of our own environment. A primary source should give you a sense of the past and help you interpret your subject and help you draw your own informed conclusions to historical questions.

Research Tips

It's important to come up with the right questions when embarking on a research project. Before you begin your primary source research, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What kind of evidence did [INSERT TOPIC/PERSON] produce? 
  • Which type of evidence would be considered important enough to save about [INSERT TOPIC/PERSON]?
  • Would this evidence be found in local, state, or national archives?


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