Durick Library at night

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred.  Memoirs and oral histories produced many years after these events are also considered to be primary sources.  A primary source provides a first hand account of an historical event and is valued in historical research for the insight it may provide to times past.  

Some examples of primary sources are:

  • letters, journals, or diaries  
  • manuscripts
  • newspapers or news film footage
  • speeches or interviews
  • memoirs or autobiographies
  • government documents produced by Congress or the President such as laws, minutes of meetings, transcriptions or recordings of conversations
  • photographs
  • audio recordings, video recordings, or films
  • research data 
  • artifacts such as works of art including paintings, sculpture, fiction
  • memorabilia, antiques, clothing, relics, jewelry, pottery, buildings

Finding Primary Sources in Books

Search the Library Catalog to find primary sources in the SMC Library.  Put in the topic you are interested in along with one of the following terms:

  • sources
  • personal narratives
  • autobiography
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documentary history

To find books at other libraries, search WorldCat or Google Book Search 

News Articles as Primary Sources

Articles in newspapers and magazines from the time period can serve as primary sources, particularly if the reporter was an eyewitness to events.

How does a secondary source differ from a primary source?

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. Secondary sources are one step removed from the event. Examples include a book about the effects of World War I written years later by a historian; a journal article which interprets another scientist’s experiment or medical research; a biography of an author, actress, or scholar. Some types of secondary sources are book reviews, histories, literary criticism, and encyclopedias.

 

 

Primary Sources - Africa

African History Source Book from Fordham Univ.
Historical sources organized by ancient, medieval, modern.

Digital Innovation South Africa, DISA
Full text historical South African journals, books, theses, maps, legal documents online. Also articles, legal decrees, pamphlets, historical conference papers, political party constitutions, letters, historical interviews, poetry, music, photographs, posters, programs, trial proceedings, etc. 

Genocide Archive of Rwanda
Testimonies, videos, audio, photographs, documents, and interactive maps about the 1994 genocide as well as post-genocide reconstruction efforts in Rwanda.

Humphrey Winterton Collection of East African Photographs: 1860-1960
Collection of photographs, glass lantern slides, and various other materials depicting life in Africa from 1860 - 1960.

 World Digital Library
A Library of Congress project sponsored by UNESCO. Digital materials include books, manuscripts, photographs, maps and sound recordings. Most countries and regions around the world are represented.

Primary Sources - Asia

 

Arabic and Middle Eastern Electronic Library from Yale
Includes manuscripts and gazettes.

 

East Asian History Sourcebook from Fordham Univ.
Historical sources organized by ancient, medieval, modern.


World Digital Library
A Library of Congress project sponsored by UNESCO. Digital materials include books, manuscripts, photographs, maps and sound recordings. Most countries and regions around the world are represented.

 

China

Chinese Civil War and U.S.-China Relations: Records of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Chinese Affairs, 1945-1955

 

The Chinese Recorder and the Protestant Missionary Community in China, 1867-1941

 

Political Relations and Conflict between Republican China and Imperial Japan, 1930-1939

 

Tiananmen Square and U.S.-China relations, 1989-1993


India

Indian History Sourcebook from Fordham Univ. Historical sources organized by ancient, medieval, modern.

 

Japan

Political Relations and Conflict between Republican China and Imperial Japan, 1930-1939

 

 

 

 

 

Primary Sources - Europe

EuroDocs (from Brigham Young Univ.)
Eastern and Western European primary historical documents 

European History Primary Sources

International Women’s Periodicals, 1786-1933: Social and Political Issues

Psychological Warfare and Propaganda in World War II: Air Dropped and Shelled Leaflets and Periodicals

The War of 1812: Diplomacy on the High Seas

Witchcraft in Europe and America

World Digital Library
A Library of Congress project sponsored by UNESCO. Digital materials include books, manuscripts, photographs, maps and sound recordings. Most countries and regions around the world are represented.

Britain

London Low Life
London Low Life is a digital collection of fiction, cartoons, maps, posters, ballads, advertisements, broadsides, and reform literature relevant to the social history of London from 1800 to 1910.

Mass Observation Online
Contains papers generated by the original Mass Observation social research organisation (1937 to early 1950s) focusing on everyday life in Britain.

Northern Ireland: A Divided Community, 1921-1972 Cabinet Papers of the Stormont Administration

Patriots to Arms! (Patriotes aux Armes!): The Underground Resistance in France, Belgium, Holland, and Italy, 1939-1945

Queen Victoria's Journals

State Papers Online: Government of Britain 1509-1714

Times (London) Digital Archive 1785-1985

The War of 1812: Diplomacy on the High Seas

France

Actes royaux français, 1256-1794 (French Royal Acts, 1256-1794)

Jewish Underground Resistance: The David Diamant Collection
Documents primarily from the Jewish segment of the French underground resistance during WWII.

Germany

East Germany from Stalinization to the New Economic Policy, 1950-1963

Economy and War in the Third Reich, 1933-1944

Holocaust and the Concentration Camp Trials: Prosecution of Nazi War Crimes

Spain

La Guerra Civil Española (The Spanish Civil War Collection)

 

Primary Sources - Latin America & the Caribbean

 

Biblioteca Americana
Digital collections include hundreds of early books on Latin America.

Expeditions & Discoveries
Maps, photographs, and published materials, as well as field notes, letters, and a unique range of manuscript materials on selected expeditions between 1626 and 1953.
 
History of the Left in Latin America
Contains the full-text of the following journals: La Cultura en México (1987-1988) and Los Libros (Argentina 1969-1976).
 
John Carter Brown Library Digital Book Collection
Four collections: Haiti, Indigenous Languages, Portugal & Brazil, and Spanish America.
 
Latin American Posters Collection (Princeton University)
Posters created by a wide variety of social activists, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, political parties, and other types of organizations across Latin America, in order to publicize their views, positions, agendas, policies, events, and services.
 
Latin American Travelogues (Brown University)
Digital collection of Latin American travel accounts written in the 16th-19th centuries.
 
Los Primeros Libros de las Américas
A digital collection of the first books printed in Mexico before 1601.
 
Luso-Hispanic New World in Early Prints and Photographs (NY Public Library Digital Collections)
More than 600 images taken from 19th century books.
 
World Digital Library
A Library of Congress project sponsored by UNESCO. Digital materials include books, manuscripts, photographs, maps and sound recordings. Most countries and regions around the world are represented.

 

Primary Sources - United States

 

Historical Newspapers and Magazines

 

American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals Collection: Series 1-5 (1684-1912)
Access to more than 6,500 historical magazine and journal titles.

American Periodicals Series Online: 1740-1940's
Access to over 1500 American magazines and journals published between 1740 - 1940. Note: most of the content spans between 1740-1900.

Black Historical Newspapers: 1893-1993
The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988), Chicago Defender (1910-1975), New York Amsterdam News (1922-1993)

Confederate Newspapers: A Collection from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama

Early American Newspapers: 1690-1876
Full text historical American newspaper titles from 23 states and the District of Columbia.

Historical Newspapers New York Times (1851-2013) and Washington Post (1877-1999)

Japanese-American Relocation Camp Newspapers: Perspectives on Day-to-Day Life

Reader's Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982
Indexes general interest/popular magazines and journals from 1890-1982.

Chronicling America: Historical American Newspapers
Access selected digitized American newspapers from 1836-1922 or search the US Newspaper Directory, 1690-present.

Primary Source Databases

 

Ancestry Library Edition (SMC students, faculty & staff)
Genealogy database covering 20 countries.

ArchiveGrid
With over 1,000 different archival institutions represented, ArchiveGrid helps researchers looking for primary source materials held in archives, libraries, museums and historical societies.

Archives Unbound
Topically-focused digital collections of historical documents: 

Chinese Civil War and U.S.-China Relations: Records of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Chinese Affairs, 1945-1955

The Civil War in Words and Deeds

Civil War Service Reports of Union Army Generals

Cold War: Voices of Confrontation and Conciliation

Confederate Newspapers: A Collection from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama

International Women’s Periodicals, 1786-1933: Social and Political Issues

Japanese-American Relocation Camp Newspapers: Perspectives on Day-to-Day Life

Personal Justice Denied: Public Hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment, 1981

The War of 1812: Diplomacy on the High Seas

Witchcraft in Europe and America

Digital Public Library of America
Materials from America’s libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions. Includes photographs, books, maps, news footage, oral histories, personal letters, museum objects, artwork, and government documents.

Freedom on the Move
Database of fugitives from North American slavery. Enslavers posted “runaway ads” to try to locate fugitives and jailers posted ads describing people they had apprehended. Created to control the movement of enslaved people, the ads ultimately preserved the details of individual lives--their personality, appearance, and life story.

Library of Congress Digital Collections
Primary documents in American history from the Library of Congress.

Making of America 19th c. books and magazines

Milestone Documents in American History
100 key primary source documents from the National Archives.

National Security Archive
Non-governmental library and archive of declassified U.S. documents

Public Papers of the Presidents (U. Michigan Library) from Hoover to Clinton Public Papers of the Presidents (National Archives) from Reagan to Obama.

Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law
Legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Search or browse the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) on selected topics to find digital images. Other search interfaces available include Access to Archival Databases and the Online Public Access Catalog.

Vital Speeches of the Day: 1934-present

Vermont, Saint Michael's College, Society of Saint Edmund

Access World News (Includes 20 VT newspapers, dates vary by publication: 1997-present). IncludesThe Defender (SMC newspaper).


Burlington Free Press / Rutland Herald Index (index only 1984 - 2009)

Early American Newspapers

This database of over 730 historical newspapers between 1690-1876 includes 41 Vermont newspapers.

Saint Michael's College Archives & Society of Saint Edmund Archives

 

 

 

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