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How do I find historical primary sources?

What are primary sources?

Primary sources provide firsthand, direct evidence about events, artifacts, works of art, documents, activities, and people. 

In the humanities and social sciences, primary sources include

  • works of art (literature, painting, sculpture, etc.)
  • historical artifacts
  • letters
  • memoirs
  • diaries
  • eyewitness accounts
  • media items (news items, videos, etc.) created at the time of an event
  • interviews
  • speeches

In the natural sciences primary sources include

  • empirical studies
  • field work
  • direct observations 

Find historical primary sources in the library

Before you search for primary sources, think about what kinds may have been produced in the time period you are studying that would be relevant to your topic, and what people or organizations might have produced these sources. 

Examples of primary sources

  • Diaries/journals
  • Magazine/newspaper articles
  • Cartoons
  • Advertisments
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Public opinion polls
  • Documents produced by organizations or government agencies
  • Fiction
  • Memoirs/autobiographies
  • Audio/video recordings
  • Raw Statistics/Research data


The Jessup library does not have original primary sources, but we do have reproductions. Some examples: 

Memoirs and Letters of Dolly Madison, Wife of James Madison, President of the United States. (E342.1 .M18 1971) 

An Army Doctor on the Western Frontier: Journals and Letters of John Vance Lauderdale, 1864-1890 (

Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States of America, Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments. (KF4502 .D43 2010)

If you need help finding primary sources at the library, email us.

Find historical primary sources on the Web

There are many websites that contain digitized primary sources. Below is a selection.