What are primary sources?
Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.
Source: Primary Sources at Yale
More information: Primary Sources 101 (guide for History 091 course)
Strategies for Finding Primary Sources
There are many strategies for finding interesting primary source documents to use in your research. Here are a few tips for getting started.
- If there is a particular event or topic that interests you, consider going directly to the sources listed on this guide to online primary sources. Using a large site like EuroDocs, you can try searching for the topic you have in mind.
- If you're not sure what you'd like to study, take a look at your syllabus or notes and see which topics have stood out. Could you explore this topic from a particular angle, e.g. the gender or labor aspects? What kind of primary sources might be available to facilitate researching this angle and topic?
Regardless of whether you know what you'd like to study, print and online reference works can give you the basic historical context for your topic, and enable you to identify key participants, dates, events, and concepts.
A few notes on language and doing research for this course:
- Spelling, word choice, and geographic names may have been different during the time period you are researching. So if you are searching for primary source documents, you may need to use these older spellings and terms to find relevant sources.
- Particularly when you don't read the language in which sources were originally written (e.g. Russian), published collections of translated primary source documents can serve as interesting and accessible ways to work with primary sources. These collections can be found in the regular collections of academic libraries, including the TriCo Libraries. Here are some links to get started: