Primary sources are original material from the time of the topic under investigation. Often, these are accounts by someone who experienced the topic first-hand. They do not generally include commentary, interpretation, or evaluation of the topic by someone critiquing the topic from a historical perspective.
Primary Source: Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill (edited by M. Soames)
Not a Primary Source: Churchill: A Study in Greatness (by G. Best)
How to begin a search for primary sources
- Familiarize yourself with the topic. Begin by identifying the major people, organizations, concepts or places associated with the topic. Often this can be done by using an encyclopedia, factbook, or other reference source (see secondary sources section).
- Think about what form primary sources on your topic might take. Will there be newspaper stories? Congressional hearings? (See the box titled Examples of Primary Sources for ideas.)
- Familiarize yourself with common words used to identify primary sources in the library's catalog. See the box titled Search Terms for Finding Published Primary Sources.
- Use a keyword search strategy to find items related to your topic in the catalog.
The Watergate Scandal of the Presidency of Richard M. Nixon
Watergate and hearing*
Nixon and Watergate and speech*
Nixon and tape*
Caution! Some primary source keywords will include fictional sources. Be sure to review each source individually to determine if it is a fictional account.
Example: diary and jones = Bridget Jones' Diary (fiction)
Example: memoir and japan* = Memoirs of a Geisha (fiction)
Examples of Primary Sources
|Annual Reports||Hearings||Personal narratives
|Census reports||Meeting minutes||Proclamations|
|Court cases||Memoranda (Memos)||Sources|
||Newspaper articles||Tax reports|
|Financial reports||Newsletters||Town reports|
|Interviews||Original works (art, literature)
Search Terms for Finding Primary Sources in Print
Many primary documents appear in published form, usually in books. Use the precise terminology in Hunter's Library Catalog to find these.
|To find these. . .||. . .add these words and phrases to your search|
|rich collections of primary documents||sources or archives|
|firsthand accounts, such as journals or diaries||diaries or personal narratives|
|eyewitness accounts||personal narratives or diaries|
oral histories and short personal accounts of an event or an era
|interviews or anecdotes|
|photographs, drawings, woodcuts, engravings, etc.||pictorial works or portraits|
|published collections of blogs||blogs|
|congressional hearings||hearing [note the singular]|