Finding Primary Sources

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence about a subject. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. 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

  • Art (paintings, drawings, sculpture, etc.)
  • Autobiographies
  • Books and, journal and newspaper articles, written at the time
  • Court cases
  • First hand accounts
  • Films/Videos
  • Government documents (hearings and debates of legislative bodies; the official text of laws, regulations and treaties; records of government expenditures and finances; statistical compilations such as census data; investigative reports; scientific data)
  • Letters
  • Maps
  • Novels
  • Official memoranda
  • Oral histories
  • Original research articles
  • Performances and plays
  • Photographs
  • Poems
  • Posters
  • Public opinion
  • Short stories
  • Speeches
  • Television shows
  • Statistics

Newspapers, Journals, and Magazines

Historical Newspapers

Historical Journals and Magazines

  • JSTOR Full-text journal articles back to 1888, including journals in economics, history, political science, and sociology, as well as in other key fields in the humanities and social sciences. 
  • American Periodicals Series Online Digitized images of the pages of American magazines and journals published from colonial days to the dawn of the 20th century. 
  • Reader's Guide Retrospective, 1890-1982 Provides indexing of over three million articles from more than 550 leading magazines, including full coverage of the original print volumes of Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. This important resource offers a wide range of researchers access to information about history, culture, science and seminal developments across nearly a century.

Current News

  • Access World News Nearly 7,000 news sources, find diverse global, local, regional, and national perspectives on all topics. Dates of coverage vary, but mostly 1980s-present. 
  • LexisNexis Academic National and regional newspapers, wire services, broadcast transcripts, international news; U.S. Federal and state case law, codes, and regulations. Dates of coverage vary, but mostly 1980s-present. 

Books

  • EEBO: Early English Books Online Contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700.
  • Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) Digital images of every page of 150,000 books published during the 18th century in the United Kingdom. 
  • Sabin Americana, 1500-1926  Based on Joseph Sabin's landmark bibliography, this collection contains works about the Americas published throughout the world from 1500 to the early 1900's. Included are books, pamphlets, serials and other documents that provide original accounts of exploration, trade, colonialism, slavery and abolition, the western movement, Native Americans, military actions and much more.
  • Artemis: Primary Sources Search across these three databases: The Times Digital Archive, Sabin Americana, and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)
  • Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) Contains the most comprehensive set of declassified government documents available. The resource now includes 44 collections consisting of over 104,000 meticulously indexed documents, with more than 733,000 total pages. Each of these collections, compiled by top scholars and experts, exhaustively covers the most critical world events, countries, and U.S. policy decisions from post World War II through the 21st century.
  • Chinese Pamphlets: Politcal Communication & Mass Education Consists of mass education materials published in Hong Kong and in Mainland China, particularly Shanghai, in the years 1947-1954. These include approximately 200 cartoon books, pamphlets, postcards, and magazines, heavily pictorial in content, on such topics as foreign threats to Chinese security, Chinese relations with the Soviet Union, industrial and agricultural production, and marriage reform. The materials were produced by both Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist) and Communist regimes, and appear to be directed at the general youth and adult populations of China.
  • South Asia Archive A digital archive encompassing around 4.5 million pages of valuable research and teaching materials, providing online access to documents ranging from 1700 through to 1953. The Archive covers the Indian subcontinent and contains both serial and non-serial materials, including reports, rare books, and journal runs from noteworthy, rare publications.
  • World Scholar: Latin America and the Caribbean Access primary source documents about Latin America and the Caribbean; academic journals and news-feeds covering the region; reference articles and commentary; maps and statistics; audio and video; and much more. 
  • Search the library catalog by keywords using one of following subject terms. 

Example: Catholic Church China sources

Subject terms to try:

  • Archives
  • Biography
  • Autobiography
  • Correspondence
  • Court records
  • Description and travel
  • Diaries
  • Imprints
  • Interviews
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Oratory
  • Personal narratives
  • Pictorial works
  • Public opinion
  • Sources
  • Speeches
  • Transcripts

Videos

  • Asian Film Online A collection of hundreds of narrative feature films, documentaries and shorts curated by film scholars and critics, the collection offers highly relevant perspectives and insights onto themes relevant across Asia, including modernity, globalization, female agency, social and political unrest, and cultural and sexual identity.
  • Kanopy More than 700 streaming educational videos in several subject collections. 
  • Films on Demand Nearly 12,000 educational online videos.
  • Filmakers Library Award-winning documentaries with relevance across the curriculum—race and gender studies, human rights, globalization and global studies, multiculturalism, international relations, criminal justice, the environment, bioethics, health, political science and current events, psychology, arts, literature, and more.
  • Search the library catalog for all streaming videos and DVDs at USF. 

U.S. Government Documents

  • ProQuest Congressional Includes the full text of Congressional reports, documents, prints, bills, the Congressional Record, and selected testimony in hearings before Congress, Public laws, Statutes at Large, the Federal Register, and the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • ProQuest Legislative Insight Congress produces a variety of publications as a bill moves through the legislative process on its way to becoming a law. A compilation of these full text primary source publications produces a legislative history that is valuable to a wide variety of researchers. 
  • Congress.gov Useful for tracking legislation in Congress, performing legislative histories and locating recent Congressional documents in full-text. Legislation and Committee Reports are available from 1994 to the present.
  • Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports  The Congressional Research Service, a component of the Library of Congress, conducts research and analysis for Congress on a broad range of issues of national policy. Coverage from1916-present. 

See more in our United States government information guide. 

Statistics

International

  • Europa World Online Includes economic, political and geographic background information and statistical data by country; regional surveys provide in-depth, expert analysis at regional, sub-regional and country level. For historical data, see our print holdings of the Europa World Year Book (1991-2005) and the Europa Year Book (1959-1988)
  • EIU.com Current country profiles and economic reports, current economic events for nearly 200 countries or economic territories.
  • OECD iLibrary  Internationally comparable statistics from the world's leading democracies.
  • ProQuest Statistical Insight Tables and abstracts for publications for U.S. and international statistics
  • Statista  Integrates over 85,000 diverse topics of data and facts from over 10,000 sources onto a single professional platform. Categorized into over 20 market sectors, Statista provides business customers, researchers, and the academic community with direct access to relevant quantitative facts on agriculture, finance, politics, and many more areas of interest.
  • Statistical Agencies for Individual Countries 

See more statistics at International Statistics.

United States

See more at Statistics.   

Maps

Photographs and Illustrations

  • ARTstor Features an unparalleled range of images from some of the world’s leading museums, photo archives, scholars, and artists in one easily-navigated repository.
  • AP Images Photo archive covering all news subjects dating back to 1840.
  • San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection Photographs from the San Francisco Public Library's Historical Collection.     
  • Search the library catalog for books containing photographs and illustrations. In the catalog record, look for ill. or illustrations in the Descript field. Also try searching using the phrase pictorial works. 

Content from Yale University Library and Sonoma State University Library was used in this guide.