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EUH 3121: Fall of Rome, Birth of Europe

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:

Finding Primary Sources

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. 

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):

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