HIS 3051 - Craft of the Historian

Primary Documents

What are Primary Sources?

  • Yale University Library provides an excellent description of primary sources.

    "Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format."

Primary documents can be

  • diaries
  • dispatches
  • law cases
  • letters
  • maps
  • newspapers
  • oral histories
  • speeches
  • senate and house hearings
  • treaties

Finding Primary Sources using OneSearch

Remember that academic libraries use the Library of Congress Classification System and subject headings. Once you find a good subject heading, you can find all the items in a library on that topic.

So -- be sure to look at the full record and use keywords from the subject headings to do another search or you may see the perfect subject heading that you can just click on.

  • correspondence
  • presidents and correspondence
  • soldiers and correspondence
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • speeches, addresses, etc.
  • campaign speeches
  • autobiography - make sure it really is an autobiography
  • memoir - make sure it really is a memoir
  • sources- Adding the word "sources" to your search will many times get you primary documents. It doesn't always work but often enough to be extremely useful -- and, it leads you to sources that will tell you about primary sources and give you citations and locations.

Primary Docs Databases

Government Documents

Center for Research Libraries

The Center for Research Libraries supports advanced research and teaching.  UNF Library is a member of CRL.  That means that you have access to thousands of research books and documents through fast interlibrary loan. CRL collects unique and little-known humanities, science, and social science documents.

There are also thousands of digital copies that you can read online.