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HIST 119/ETHN 169/WGST 168 — Gender/Sex/Social Movt 20th US (Gomez)

What Is a Primary Source?

What Are Primary Sources?

"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)

How do I access and use primary sources?

Primary sources can be located in many places: subscription repositories that SCU pays for; open access repositories available on the open web; books held at SCU Library and beyond; archives and museums; so many more!

Using OSCAR to Find Primary Sources

Using OSCAR to Find Primary Sources

You can use the library online catalog, OSCAR, to find published primary sources or books that include reproductions of primary documents.

  • Do an author search to see if SCU Library owns a book written by specific people (e.g. a notable immigrant whose letters or journal you would want to read)
    • Last name, first name middle name
  • Do a simple search to find books on a topic
  • Combine the keywords representing the topic with keywords such as
    • correspondence, papers, speeches, memoirs, personal narratives, documents, sources
    • e.g. farm and labor and sources

Online Primary Source Repositories

Primary Sources on the Web

Primary Sources on the Web

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. 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.

Below 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.

Additionally, you can just add the words "primary sources" to your search to locate such documents on the Internet, but this is when you'll have to be very discerning. 

Government Documents

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:

Newspaper and Magazine Archives