"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."
(American Library Association, Reference and User Services, History Section)
There are many ways to find primary sources for historical research.
You will find the terms digital collections, digital archives, digital libraries, online repositories, and online exhibits are used interchangeably to describe the portal that contains an institution's digitized content. Some sites, like the Digital Public Library of America and Calisphere, aggregate these digitized items into one portal.
Using OSCAR to search for primary sources essentially means searching for books that contain reproduced or transcribed primary sources. This is advantageous because the sources come with an editorial apparatus that puts the sources in context, and often gets around the handwriting problem by transcribing and printing the content of handwritten documents.
The following keywords should be utilized for this:
correspondence, papers, speeches, memoirs, personal narratives, documents, sourcebook, or sources
Combine the keywords representing the topic with keywords representing primary sources, such as
This quarter the SCU Library is trialing a database with extensive digital collections called Adam Matthew Explorer, or AM Explorer.
This is a superb source to browse and explore for a wealth of primary sources.
Individual Newspaper Databases
Databases containing multiple newspapers (sometimes hundreds)
Government publications are a rich source of primary documents.
Use this database to find congressional publications, bills, laws and regulations, hearings, and government reports.
Here's an example of the kind of documents you can find in the database:
Many primary sources have been digitized and made available on the web. You have to be careful, though, because often the source of the document is not provided -- especially if you found it through a Google search and appropriate credit is not given for the digital object. You need to evaluate each web site carefully to determine if it is reliable. Primary sources available from university/college archives or government archives are the best.
On this guide are some primary source repositories that aggregate the digital collections of many libraries and archives, or provide many digital collections on different topics and themes through one institution's database. You will use different search strategies based on the scope of each repository or digital collection database you search.
You can find primary sources through a Google search attaching words or phrases ("primary sources" or documents) to a search:
navajo code talkers "primary sources"
navajo code talkers documents
The various museums and collections that comprise the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress have created some marvelous internet tools, exhibitions, collections and databases. A quick way to "get in" is to construct complex Boolean search statements to use in a Google search following these three patterns:
word (or phrase enclosed in " ") site:si.edu
word (or phrase enclosed in " ") site:loc.gov
word (or phrase enclosed in " ") site:archives.gov
For example, if I wanted to see what was available about the Navajo code talkers during World War II, remembering that "less is often better searching," I would do these three separate searches in Google:
"code talkers" site:si.edu
"code talkers" site:loc.gov
"code talkers" site:archives.gov
and I would find some incredible primary resources!