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What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original materials from the time period or subject that is being studied.  Please note that the same item may be a primary source in one investigation and a secondary source in another.  

Examples of items that are generally considered to be primary sources include:

  • Diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, manuscripts

  • Memoirs and autobiographies

  • Records of organizations and government agencies

  • Journal and newspaper articles written at the time

  • Photographs, audio recordings, video recordings

  • Public opinion polls conducted at the time

  • Research reports or articles reflecting the results of scientific experiments or studies

  • Works of art, architecture, literature, and music such as paintings, sculptures, musical scores, buildings, novels, poems, etc.

  • Artifacts such as plant specimens, fossils, furniture, tools, clothing, etc. of the time under study


You can search the library catalog for books that contain primary sources.  Some subject terms to use are:

 1. Diaries

 2. Letters

 3. Correspondence

 4. Autobiographies

 5. Sources

The Salmon Library also has the Library of American Civilization (LAC) series.  This is a collection of materials on microfiche relating to all aspects of American life and literature from their beginnings to the outbreak of World War I.  The collection includes pamphlets, periodicals, documents, biographies and autobiographies, fictional works, poetry, collections of various kinds, materials of foreign origin relating to America, and many rare books not generally available.

You can search for these items by using the phrase "Library of American Civilization".   The microfiche is found on N-1.

Many of these titles have been digitized by libraries, the Google Book scanning project, and the Microsoft Book scanning project.

Once you find your titles check these websites to see if the book is available as a PDF file.

 Quinnipiac University

 Internet Archive (Text)

 Google Books


Another collection of primary source documents is found in the series "The Library of Original Sources" edited by Oliver J. Thatcher.

From the preface: "It is the purpose of this work to present the ideas that have influenced civilization in the words of the men or the documents that developed them."

 Volume 1: The Ancient World - AC1 .T4 v. 1

 Volume 2: The Greek World - AC1 .T4 v. 2

 Volume 9: 1833-1865 - AC1 .T4 v. 9

 Volume 10: 1865-1903. Indexes. - AC1 .T4 v. 10


All the volumes are available as PDF files at the Internet Archive.

 Volume 1: The Ancient World 

 Volume 2: The Greek World

 Volume 3: The Roman World

 Volume 4: Early Mediaeval Age

 Volume 5: 9th to 16th century

 Volume 6: Advances in Knowledge, 1650-1800

 Volume 7: Era of Revolution

 Volume 8: 1800- 1833

 Volume 9: 1833-1865

 Volume 10: 1865-1903. Indexes



Primary Documents in the Salmon Library Collection

Also search for your topic and put the term SOURCES in the subject field.  This will bring up documents, letters, diaries, etc.