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DEFINITION: A Primary Source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the experience or time period under study. These first-hand contributions offer an inside view of a particular event. 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.
Examples of primary sources are:
- Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts and other papers in which individuals describe events in which they were participants or observers;
- Memoirs and autobiographies;
- Records of organizations and agencies of government;
- Published materials written at the time of the event;
- Photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures, video recordings documenting what happened;
- Artifacts of all kinds; and
- Research reports in the sciences and social sciences.
The following are freely accessible websites where primary source collections may be found.
Digital Public Library of America
Primary source collections exploring topics in history, literature, and culture developed by educators — complete with teaching guides for class use.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress digital collections comprise millions of items including books, newspapers, manuscripts, prints and photos, maps, musical scores, films, sound recordings and more.
The National Archives holds historical U.S. government documents that are created or received by the President and his staff, by Congress, by employees of Federal government agencies, and by the Federal courts in the course of their official duties.
Primary Sources at Yale
Primary sources provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic or question under investigation. These Yale collections acquire and provide access to primary source materials.
The following are Viterbo library databases which contain primary sources. Please note that not all of the material found in them are primary sources.
3 million images from leading museums, photo archives, scholars, and artists, including many rare collections.
Black Freedom Struggle
This website is focused on black freedom, featuring select primary source documents related to critical people and events in African American history.
Civil Rights & Social Justice
This database brings together a diverse offering of publications covering civil rights in the United States as their legal protections and definitions are expanded to cover more and more Americans. Containing hearings and committee prints, legislative histories on the landmark legislations, CRS and GAO reports, briefs from major Supreme Court cases, and publications from the Commission on Civil Rights, this database allows users to educate themselves on the ways our civil rights have been strengthened and expanded over time, as well as how these legal protections can go further still.
Gun Regulation & Legislation in America
This collection brings together periodicals, key compiled federal legislative histories, relevant congressional hearings, CRS Reports, Supreme Court briefs, and more. Links to scholarly articles, an extensive bibliography, and a balanced selection of external resources to further research this subject are also provided.
History Reference Center
Full-text books, magazines, historical documents, biographies, and multimedia.
Nearly 57,000 historical documents and 40,000 historical photos and maps, along with
more than 1,990 full-text reference books.
JSTOR This link opens in a new window
Archive of journal issues as they were originally designed, printed, and illustrated. NOT CURRENT; there is a 1- to 5-year gap between the newest journal issue and the content available in JSTOR.
Newspapers.com Library Edition -- World Collection
Historical newspapers archive from the 1700s - 2000s containing thousands of well-known regional, state, and small local newspapers in the United States and other countries
Newspaper Source Plus
Over 1,500 full-text newspapers.
Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law
This collection brings together a multitude of essential legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world. The collection includes every statute passed by every colony and state on slavery, every federal statute dealing with slavery, and all reported state and federal cases on slavery. In addition, UNC Press books, periodicals, scholarly articles, poems/songs/sermons, and other slavery-related primary source materials are included.
Use the following collections to discover Viterbo newspapers, images, campus publications, meeting minutes, music recitals, and more!