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History Research Guide

The main research guide to support historical research, including primary and secondary resources for all geographical areas and time periods.

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history, the documents and accounts "contemporary with the event or thought to which it refers."1 The following list, though certainly not exhaustive, may give you some ideas for primary sources useful in your own research.

Autobiographies and memoirs Legislative debates, bills, and laws
Personal correspondence Court procedings
Diaries and journals Political speeches and decrees
Financial statements and inventories Census data and other official statistics
Wills Newspapers
Photographs Church records
Maps Interviews
Artistic expressions (literature, music, etc.) Physical evidence (coins, architecture, etc.)

1. John Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 3rd ed. (New York : Longman, 2000), 38.

Finding Primary Sources

Some primary sources are only available in an archive or special collection with limited access.  Others have been digitized and may be available through a subscription database provided by Howard-Tilton.  Links to archives and to digizited collection are at left.


Some primary sources have been published in book form. Autobiographies were likely written with the intent of being published, while historical diaries might be published posthumously, often accompanied by an historian's introduction or interpretation. Some books are simply published collections of manuscripts, correspondences, or government documents.  Any of these published materials can be discovered by searching the library catalog.  The following subdivisions of subject headings may be useful in tracking down these published primary source materials:

Sources  (e.g. Great Britain--History--Tudors, 1485-1603--Sources)

Diaries  (e.g. Women--Louisiana--Diaries)

Personal narratives  (e.g. World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, Japanese.)

Correspondence  (e.g. Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo--Correspondence.)

Interviews  (e.g. Artists--Mexico--Interviews)

Quotations  (e.g. Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Quotations)

Description and travel  (e.g. Egypt--Description and travel)

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