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HI 2324: European Empires

What are primary sources?

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 documents and artifacts from the time period under study, such as letters, diaries, photographs, newspaper articles, pamphlets, government records, songs, poems, and videos. 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.

Library Databases with Primary Sources

Examples of Websites with Primary Sources

To find primary sources via Google, try adding keywords like journals, papers, letters, documents, primary sources, 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 can help you find primary sources:

Primary Sources: Books at WPI

Sometimes collections of primary source documents are republished in books. Here are some strategies for finding books like these:

  • Search WPI Library Search for books about your topic and add keywords like journals, papers, letters, documents, photographs, primary sources, documentary history, or sourcebook to your search terms
  • Search WPI Library Search for books about your topic and use the Creation Date filter on the left to limit your search to materials created during the time period you are studying

Here are some examples of books containing primary sources: