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Guide to Literary Studies

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide firsthand evidence of historical events.  These include letters, diaries, photographs, speeches,manuscripts, newspapers, interviews, memoirs, government documents, audio recordings, film or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art. Many of these are unpublished, one-of-a-kind items. 

A growing number of Primary Sources are available on the web, thanks to digitization projects by libraries, universities, and other agencies.

Locating Primary Sources in the Catalog

To locate primary resources in the library catalog, perform a Subject or Keyword search on the person, place, event, etc., in combination with one of the following terms:

  • diaries     
  • personal narratives
  • correspondence
  • sources
  • pictorial works
  • maps
  • speeches
  • addresses

Evaluating Websites



There are a lot of web sites on the Internet relevant to History. You need to be careful, however, as not all Web sites provide authoritative information.

Ask yourself the following questions when evaluating information on freely-available Web sites:

Who is the author of the page/site?

What are the credentials of the author (what qualifies him or her to write on the topic)?

Who sponsors the site?

What is the purpose of the site - To inform? To entertain?, To sell you something? To argue for a certain point of view?

Who is the intended audience?

Are the sources cited? Where did the author(s) get the information?

Can the information on the page be verified with other sources?

How current is the information?

For additional information on evaluating Web sites, look at: 

Five criteria for evaluating Web pages from Cornell University

Primary Sources on the Web

Primary Source Databases