Correspondence, diaries, memoires, interviews, account books, inventories, and other original documents, created at the time of an event or during the lifetime of an individual or institution, that can be used to understand people and events of the past, are considered primary source material. Depending upon the project, newspaper and magazine articles, images, film, and so forth may also be considered primary source materials.
To the right are strategies for finding original, transcribed, reprinted, and surrogate versions of primary sources. Tabs on this research guide lead to digital collections of primary sources we own.
Both American National Biography and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, found under the "Biography and Genealogy" tab, list archives for individuals at the end of the essay on that individual.
To find archives and manuscript collections using Google, or another Web browser, type in the name of the person, event, or country, and combine with the words archives, or in the case of a country, "National Archives."
The following a highly selective list sources for finding archival materials.
To identify guides by country, use the LC Subject Heading “Manuscripts -- Country -- Catalogs,” entering the relevant country name. For guides to manuscript collections on particular topics, use the subheadings “Manuscripts -- Catalogs” or “Sources -- Bibliography -- Catalogs.” For example, you might use the headings “
The library catalog is a good place to start when searching for primary source materials such as correspondence, diaries, memoires, records, and other types of documents, either held in the library's Special Collections and Archives division, reprinted as books, or microform or digital surragates of the original.
Monographs written at the time of the event can make useful primary source material.
The terms, diaries, personal narratives, correspondence, interviews, sources, archives, manuscripts, and document* can be added to a keyword search, to locate primary sources in the library catalog, Prospector, and WorldCat. For example, if looking for primary source materials regarding Che Guevara, you can do a keyword search as follows:
che guevara diaries
che guevara correspondence
All but the last of the above terms are subheadings that appear frequently in Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).
Examples of LC Subject Headings with terms indicating primary source material underlined:
Read the introduction and/or preface, or look at the bibliographic citations for the individual transcriptions to discover where the documents consulted are kept.
A search in WorldCat and limited to "Archival Materials" will retrieve records for physical archives or archives that have been reproduced in some other format, such as microform.
For additional sources to find archival materials, consult other boxes in this section.
When searching in databases for surrogate primary sources, determine what vocabulary was used to describe the event and search using those terms.
Thanks to Michael Levine-Clark for allowing me to use his text about primary source research from his chapter, "Historical Research," in Research Within the Disciplines: Foundations for Library Reference and Library Instruction, Peggy Keeran et al *Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007) 61-82.
For additional primary source digital collections, click on the Databases on the library homepage...
...and the select the "All Database Types" dropdown menu on the next screen to see all types of digital primary sources: