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Library DIY

Navigating UWG library resources and research

Primary Sources: Overview

Primary sources are original documents or artifacts that originate from the time or event being researched. They include first-hand observations, contemporary accounts of events, and viewpoints of the time. In the sciences primary sources also include reports and articles on the results of original research. This page focuses on primary sources for the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

The boxes below describe resources and strategies for finding historical primary sources.

Examples of primary sources

  • Newspaper accounts
  • Letters, Diaries, scrapbooks
  • Government documents (statistics, congressional transcripts, laws, etc.)
  • Personal accounts, autobiographies, memoirs
  • Images and museum artifacts
  • Speeches
  • Oral Histories
  • Data from scientific experiments

Other types of information may also be primary sources if they are analyzed for their historical or cultural significance.

Primary Sources: Key library databases for finding primary sources

Many of the Library's databases include primary sources. Look for each database's Advanced Search. In most databases you can locate primary sources by limiting your search by format type (e.g., photographs, images) or by date.

Since different disciplines can have different resources or databases with primary sources, always check the Subject Research Guide for the discipline to see what specific recommendations we have for you. 

Below are several larger databases with many primary sources.

Primary Sources: Government documents

Government documents that serve as artifacts of an historical event or time are primary sources. Below are several key resources for government information.

Primary Sources: Newspapers

See the Newspapers guide for access to historical and current newspapers from the U.S. the world, or for the state of Georgia. Newspapers are excellent primary sources that provide insight into a given time.

Primary Sources: Using the Library catalog

The Library catalog includes primary sources that are available in print, online, and in microfilm. If you are looking for a specific item, search by title or author. 

Use the Advanced Search to limit by date or by format (e.g., images, audio visual, scores).

If you are looking for primary sources on a certain topic, do an Advanced Search. Here you can limit by format (e.g., images, audio visual, scores), publication year, author, or subject. (Subjects can be especially helpful for narrowing a search by topic or by document type (e.g., correspondence, autobiography, letters).

Below are some recommended catalog search terms for locating primary sources. 

  • Any kind of primary source: Sources or documents (examples: medieval sources, civil war documents, papal sources)
  • Personal accounts, autobiographies, or memoirs: Personal narratives or Autobiography or memoir  (examples: Pearl Harbor personal narratives, battle of the bulge memoir, autobiography world war II)
  • Letters: Correspondence or letters (examples: Civil War correspondence, French Revolution letters)
  • Diaries: Diary (examples: Civil War diary, woman diary France)
  • Oral history: Interview or oral history or speeches (examples: Cold War interview, Japanese internment oral history, Malcolm X speeches)
  • Pamphlet: Pamphlet (examples: pamphlet chastity, rights of women pamphlet)
  • Photographs or artwork: Pictorial works (examples: Chicago pictorial works, World's Fair pictorial works)

Try these words in a general keyword search, or to narrow your results limit the search to "subject."

Primary Sources: Using Google Books to find them

If your topic relates to an event that occurred more than 95 years ago, there are likely relevant primary sources available in the public domain. Google Books has digitized and made available many such books. (Public domain and copyright laws are more complicated than just a flat "95 years" but this is a good guideline). 

Search for a specific work or for a general topic. Note, however, that Google Books also lists resources that are only available to preview. Look for resources with publication dates older 95 years ago and with a Read Preview link. The Advanced Book Search allows you to limit to Full view only books.

Image showing advanced book search options.