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History: Primary Sources

Library of Congress

Our nation's warehouse of documents and artifacts

What is a Primary Source?

Primary Source vs. Secondary Source

A primary source is a document that shows direct, immediate or firsthand knowledge of a subject or event. It is a document written at the time or on the scene where an event occurred.

Secondary sources are those writings without direct knowledge of a topic or event. These include biographies, monographs, and general periodical articles. Secondary sources are written by people who did not witness or experience an event but have a great deal of knowledge about the topic. Writers often use primary sources in their writing of secondary sources!

Primary Source Types

  • Autobiographies
  • Diaries/Journals
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Travel Accounts
  • Messages and Papers
  • Government Documents
  • Magazine/Newspaper Articles
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Other Non-Text Materials

Websites for Primary Source Content

Finding Primary Sources in Newspaper Databases

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers Search America's historic newspapers pages from 1836-1922 or use the U.S. Newspaper Directory tab to find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present.

+Newspaper Source Selected full-text articles from 200 national, regional, and international newspapers, including USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald, The Times (London), Toronto Star, etc. Also includes full-text television and radio news transcripts. (This database requires a public library card.  Enter your PLCH library card number.)

+ProQuest Historical Newspapers Full-text and full-image articles for the complete backfile (1851–2000) of the New York Times. Digital reproductions include news stories, editorials, photographs, graphics, obituaries, legal notices, and advertisements. (This database requires a public library card.  Enter your PLCH library card number.)



Primary Source Specific eBook Titles





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