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HI 2315: The Shaping of Post-1920 America - Prof. Megan Sethi: Primary Sources

Prof. Megan Sethi

Primary sources are materials that provide firsthand testimony to a subject under investigation. Researchers often use these firsthand accounts of specific events to understand events from the viewpoint of people living during that time period. Primary sources include letters, diaries, photographs, newspaper articles, and pamphlets. Primary sources also include writings and recordings by witnesses who experienced the events or conditions being documented. For example, oral histories, autobiographies, and memoirs are primary sources.

Use the tabs below to find information on finding primary sources in databases, books, and websites.

Research Resources

Primary Sources: Library Databases

New York Times Historical


In the New York Times Historical database, go to the Advanced Search page and enter your keywords. Under Publication Date, select "Specific Date Range," and enter the dates you are studying. 

Screenshot of the Advanced Search page of the New York Times Historical database


To find primary sources in JSTOR, enter your keywords. On the search results page, go to the "Primary Source Content" filter on the left, and select Serials, Documents, Books, and/or Images.

Screenshot of the Primary source content filter in the database JSTOR

Primary Sources: Books at WPI

Sometimes collections of primary source documents are republished in books. To find books like these, search WPI Library Search for books about your topic and add keywords like sourcebook, documents, primary sources, documentary history, papers, letters, speeches, journal, diary, memoir, or autobiography to your search terms. 

Here are some examples of books containing primary sources:

Primary Sources: Examples of Helpful Websites

To find primary sources via Google, try adding keywords like primary sources, documents, archives, journals, papers, letters, or documentary history to your search terms. Primary sources can often be found on library, museum, and government websites. 

Here are some examples of websites that have primary sources for post-1920 America:

Use the resources below to find primary sources related to advertising and American culture, 1920s - 1950s.

Use the resources below to find primary sources related to women, work, and the family, 1950 - present.