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EUH 4142: Renaissance and Reformation: Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are materials created at the time of the topic you are researching, or by an eyewitness to the topic.  Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.  They are not commentary about your topic, but are the topic you are commenting about. 

Watch this brief video for help differentiating between primary and secondary sources:

Print Sources

The following are a select group of titles available in print.  Additional titles can be identified by searching the library catalog.

Basic Documents of English History. 1968. (Ref. DA 26 .B38)

The British Inheritance: A Treasury of Historic Documents.1999. (Oversize DA 32.5 .B69 1999)

British Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of British Diaries Written Between 1442 and 1942. 1950. (Z 2014 .D5 M3)

Cardinal Documents in British History. 1961. (DA 26 .S3)

A Collection of Historical Documents Illustrative of the Reigns of the Tudor and Stuart Sovereigns. (DA 30 .G6 1886)

A Documentary History of England. 1965. (DA 26 .D55)

English Historical Documents. 13 vols. 1953-1969. (DA 26 E55)

International Historical Statistics: Europe, 1750-2005. 2007. (Ref. HA 1107 M5 2007)

Statutes of The Realm. 1225-1713. 11 vols. on microfiche. (Microfiche 636 2nd Floor)

Stuart Papers From the Royal Archives of Windsor Castle. 1579-1823. Microfilm 1097

Finding Primary Sources in the Library Catalog

There are certain words that appear in the subject headings of items in the library catalog that constitute primary sources.  The term used most frequently is sources, but there are others.  To identify primary sources in the library catalog, follow these steps:

1. Go to Advanced Search
2. Enter your keyword(s) in the first search box, leaving "Anywhere" in the dropdown box
3. Enter the word sources in the next search box, and select "Subject Heading" from the dropdown box

You'll notice that sources appears in the subject headings section of each item in your results list, indicating the presence or inclusion of primary sources in that item.  Depending on the period being studied, it can also be helpful to limit your search by publication date.  

Other search terms that might help you find primary sources include:

  • correspondence
  • letters
  • sermons
  • chronicles
  • records
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • memoirs
  • interviews
  • speeches

NOTE: This is just a tip - it will NOT always give you results. 

Finding Primary Sources on the Web

Search for a specific primary source by title, using quotation marks.

Example: "Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points" 

Search for your topic by keyword in conjunction with the term primary source.

Example:  Woodrow Wilson primary source  

Use an Advanced search in Google to limit search results by a specific domain (.edu, .gov, etc.).  See our Google guide for help.

For more information on finding primary sources on the web, see the online guide maintained by the History Section of RUSA (a division of the American Library Association):