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HIST 11A/12A: Slavery and Unfreedom (Gudgeirsson)

This course guide was created to support HIST 11A for Dr. Meg Eppel Gudgeirsson. If you have any questions about this guide, please contact Anna Yang at

What is a primary source?

What Are Primary Sources:

Primary sources are the evidence of history, original records or objects created by participants or observers at the time historical events occurred or even well after events, as in memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include but are not limited to: 

  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • diaries
  • journals
  • newspapers
  • maps
  • speeches
  • interviews
  • documents produced by government agencies
  • photographs
  • audio or video recordings
  • born-digital items (e.g. emails)
  • research data
  • objects or artifacts (works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons). 

These sources serve as the raw materials historians use to interpret and analyze the past.

American Library Association, RUSA 2024

Finding Primary Sources

Primary Sources in Oscar:

You can  use the library online catalog, OSCAR, to find  published primary sources or books including primary documents. If you are interesting in the writings of a specific individual, just do an author search.  If you are looking for primary sources on a specific topic, enter your keywords and add one of the following words, depending on what you are looking for:  

  • correspondence, diaries, pamphlets, speeches, memoirs, personal narratives, interview, firsthand, eyewitness, sources

For example: Haitian revolution and documents
                     Abolitionis* and sources

Here are some collection of primary sources you can find in OSCAR:

Databases and Collections of Primary Sources

Newspaper and Magazine Archives

Articles from the time period of the events you are researching are also primary sources.  Consider these newspapers and archives for your topic.

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. You need to evaluate each web site carefully to determine if it is reliable. In general, you can just add the words "primary sources" to your search to locate such documents on the web. The following sites are examples of what you can find on the web.

Primary Sources for Contemporary Topics

If you are researching a contemporary topic such as human trafficking or free speech or mass incarceration, you will be able to find reports and documents from various organizations and think thanks that can be considered primary sources.  For example, several international organizations, like the United Nations or Human Rights Watch, publish reports on human trafficking.  You can find them easily through a Google search.  Below are some examples: