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History: A Guide to Getting Started with Library Resources

This guide will help you locate resources for history.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts of events, recorded or described by people who have witnessed the event personally.  These accounts can be interviews (written or oral), diary or journal entries, photographs, videos, and many other formats.  Primary sources are important for research on history because they provide insight into what was going on at the time from a perspective impacted or affected by the event.

How to Analyze a Primary Source?

 

While primary sources are often desirable for the raw, non-interpreted information they provide, it is important to analyze them for your research. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the creator and what was their relationship to the event or issue?
  • Why did the creator produce this source?
  • Was the source for personal use?  For a large audience?
  • Was the source intended to be public (newspaper) or private (correspondence)?
  • How neutral was the creator?  What biases or interests might have influenced how the source was created?
  • Can the source be substantiated by other primary sources? Can you confirm what the creator is saying?

Letters & Diaries of Historical Figures

 

Primary Sources in Print

When searching for primary sources in the following sources, try to combine your topic ("American Civil War") with terms such as "diaries," "journals," "letters," or "autobiography."  This method can help you access primary source material.

If you enter the name of a location and "newspapers," you can often find newspaper titles that will cover that area.  For more precise searching, do a title search for the name of the newspaper and you will be able to see the available dates of coverage.

Government Documents are also an important source for primary sources, especially for research in the 19th, 20th, & 21st centuries.

Electronic Primary Sources

The following recommendations include online archives, digital respositories, and databases available at Texas Tech and beyond.

Letters, Diaries, Memoirs--Digital Collections

 

Major Digital Collections of Early Books