History Research Guide

Primary Sources

The Library of Congress defines primary sources as actual records that have survived from the past as opposed to secondary sources which are accounts of the past created by people writing about events sometime after they happened.

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diaries
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Autobiographies
  • Manuscripts
  • Letters
  • Personal narratives
  • Pamphlets
  • Photographs, paintings
  • Clothing, jewelry, archaeological artifacts
  • Travel and eyewitness accounts
  • Government documents
  • Personal papers
  • Memoirs
  • Minutes of meetings
  • Newspaper articles contemporary to event or person

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • Textbooks
  • Magazine articles
  • Encyclopedias

Primary sources come in different formats including:

  • Personal correspondence or papers, and manuscripts in archives and libraries
  • Reprinted in published sources such as books, collections of letters, diaries, memoirs. To find primary sources in the libraries' online catalog use subject keyword search for your topic and add one of the words from the list above:
    For example: Holocaust diaries, Civil War sources, Slavery pamphlets

Or use mixed keyword search. For example: Presidents memoirs, American West travel account.

Subject Specialist

Paul Rascoe's picture
Paul Rascoe
PCL Reference - Documents, Maps, Electronic Info Librarian
Call: (512) 495-4262

Guide to 18th & 19th Century Imprints, Newspapers, & Periodicals