Answered By: Roxanna Jones
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2015     Views: 150

Definitions of primary sources can vary from discipline to discipline, so make sure you understand what your instructor is expecting from you if you must identify primary resources.

Generally, primary sources are those that document history as it is being made. This documentation can be written, visual and oral, but it is produced as close to the event or person being studied as possible. It is not documentation that, for the most part, attempts to explain or explore someone or something. Articles, books and other sources that are produced later in an attempt to examine and/or bring reason and order to bear on a topic are secondary sources.

Primary sources can include newspaper articles, interviews, oral histories, diaries, letters and correspondence, autobiographies/memoirs, research data, government information such as census data, and legislation. However, primary sources can also be creative and functional objects such as the drama, novels, poetry, music, art, architecture, furniture and clothing produced during a specific time.

You can search InfoKat, UK Libraries online catalog for primary sources.  For instance try searching "vietnam" AND "memoirs" or "Helen Keller" AND "autobiography"

We also have amazing primary sources in our Special Collections.  See the following:

We also have a good many collections with primary sources in them

American Civil War Letters and Diaries: Contains over 2,000 authors and approximately 100,000 pages from over 1,000 letters, diaries and memoirs. Includes some previously unpublished manuscripts, biographies, a bibliography of the sources in the database, and material licensed from The Civil War Day-by-Day, by E. B. Long.

American Memory: Archival collections from Library of Congress. Topics: Advertising, African American History, Architecture/Landscape, Cities/Towns, Culture/Folklife, Environment/Conservation, Government/Law, Immigration/American Expansion, Literature, Maps, Native American History, Performing Arts/Music, Presidents, Religion, Sports/Recreation, Technology/Industry, War/Military, and Women's History.

Defining Gender, 1450-1910: "Advice Literature for men and women." Access to approximately 50,000 images of original manuscript and printed material, including a strong core of documents from the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ephemeral material such as ballads, cartoons and pamphlets are featured alongside diaries, advice literature, medical journals, conduct books and periodicals.

Documenting the American South: Digital publishing initiative by the University of North Carolina Library that contains primary sources on the cultural history of the American South. Autobiographies, travel accounts, diaries, etc. regarding slavery and regional literature are included. The 19th century is emphasized.

In the First Person: Index to Letters, Diaries, Oral Histories, and Other Personal Narratives indexes more than 3,500 collections of oral history in English from around the world and other first-person content, including letters, diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and other personal narratives, providing citations, and in many cases links to full-text, audio and video files within scholarly materials that are freely available on the Web and through Alexander Street databases, several of which you can access through the libraries' subscriptions.

Kentuckiana Digital Library (KDL): Part of the Kentucky Virtual Library; provides online finding aids and digitized material from archival collections across the state of Kentucky.

Making of America (MoA) - Cornell University and Making of America (MoA) - University of Michigan: Digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. This site provides access to 267 monograph volumes and over 100,000 journal articles with 19th century imprints.

Modern Era: 1800-1950: Full-text available via Past Masters. Contains 40 volumes of correspondence from important figures in nineteenth and twentieth century England, all from Oxford University Press.

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 brings together books, images, documents, scholarly essays, commentaries, and bibliographies to document the multiplicity of women's reform movements.

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