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HIST 299: Historian's Craft: Find Primary Sources

Definition: Primary Sources

Primary sources are the raw materials of historical research - they are the documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation. Often they are created during the time period which is being studied (correspondence, diaries, newspapers, government documents, art) but they can also be produced later by eyewitnesses or participants (memoirs, oral histories). You may find primary sources in their original format (usually in an archive) or reproduced in a variety of ways: books, microfilm, digital, etc.

Examples include:

  • Artifacts (e.g. coins, plant specimens, fossils, furniture, tools, clothing, all from the time under study)
  • Audio recordings (e.g. radio programs, oral histories)
  • Diaries
  • Internet communications on email, listservs
  • Interviews (e.g., oral histories, telephone, e-mail)
  • Journal articles published in peer-reviewed publications
  • Letters
  • Newspaper articles written at the time
  • Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript)
  • Patents
  • Photographs
  • Proceedings of Meetings, conferences and symposia
  • Records of organizations, government agencies (e.g. annual report, treaty, constitution, government document)
  • Speeches
  • Survey Research (e.g., market surveys, public opinion polls)
  • Video recordings (e.g. television programs)
  • Works of art, architecture, literature, and music (e.g., paintings, sculptures, musical scores, buildings, novels, poems)
  • Websites

Searching the CofC Discovery Service

To find primary sources in the the CofC Libraries Catalog ADVANCED DISCOVERY SERVICE, it can be helpful to search the following types of sources using the "subject" filter to identify relevant sources. Refine your search results by availability, date, location, subject, and more using the facets to the side. 

Subject Search Terms
 

Examples of keyword searches might look like:

  • "nuclear arms" sources
  • slavery "personal narratives"
  • Abraham Lincoln diaries