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Ancient and Medieval History

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):

Print Sources

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

Ancient near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 1955. Supplement. 1969. (BS 1180 P83)
Basic Documents in Medieval History. 1992. (D113.5 B37 1992)
Chronicles of the Barbarians: Firsthand Accounts of Pillage and Conquest, From the Ancient World to the Fall of Constantinople. 1998. (D 104 .C55 1998)
Chronicles of the Crusades: Eye-witness Accounts of the Wars between Christianity and Islam. 1989. (D151 C56 1989)
The Crusades and their Sources. 1998. (D151 C78 1998)
Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. 1990. 2 vols. (REF BX825 A 1990)
Loeb Classical Library   (search library catalog for books in this series)
A Medieval Miscellany. 2000. (D113 M415 2000)
The Middle Ages: Sources of Medieval History. 1983. (D 113 M49)