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History: Primary Sources

Primary Sources - the basics

"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. ... These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."  

Source: Using Primary Sources on the Web

The vast majority of primary sources remain available only in paper.

Types of primary sources:

  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • diaries
  • journals
  • newspapers
  • speeches
  • interviews
  • memoirs
  • photographs
  • audio recordings
  • video recordings
  • research data
  • objects and/or artifacts
  • tools
  • buildings
  • weapons

Historic Periodicals

Hofheimer Library owns some runs of the 19th century periodicals Harper's Weekly and Littel's Living Age, which will be of interest as primary source material for a variety of history projects.  Harper's covers some of the 1850's and late 1860's through just past 1900.  The library already has coverage of the Civil War years, 1861-65, and Reconstruction and researchers will need to see a librarian for assistance.  Littel's Living Age runs 1844 through 1851, and 1861-1865, and these can be found in the First Floor Periodicals section.


Also of interest to students working on Civil War topics is our collection of Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, which was pro-South in its reporting on the Civil War.  Hofheimer has 4 volumes, 1862-65.

Primary Source Databases

Online Collections of Primary Sources