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I Am Looking for Primary Sources

Primary sources give a first-hand account of an event or subject. These include diaries, letters, memoirs, oral histories (both audio and video), artifacts, government documents, experiment results, personal accounts in the news, and images.

Secondary sources interpret and evaluate an event or topic generally one step removed from what happened. These include scholarly articles, reference works, and newspaper articles.

A secondary source can include primary source content, which can be confusing. For example, a newspaper article often is written by a person who is one step removed from the event. However, if a newspaper article is written from the perspective of a person who witnessed the event, it could be a primary source.

To search for primary sources using @LL Search:

  1. Write the topic/event you are trying to find primary sources for in the first box.
  2. Use the date range limiter to focus your search on contemporaneous accounts
  3. Try using some of the keywords below in the second box to focus your search:

    sources documents
    personal narratives autobiography memoir
    correspondences letters diary
    interview oral history speeches pamphlet pictorial works

  4. If available, choose "Primary Source Documents" under the "Format" limiter
  5. Use the "Publication" limiter to choose a publication that you know includes primary sources

Example of a search for World War II primary sources using @LL Search

Here are a few select sources for primary source materials:

  • American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts contains more than 18,000 pages of eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from the sagas of Vikings in Canada in AD1000 to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
  • The Avalon Project at Yale Law School contains digital documents relevant to the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government beginning with ancient documents from 450 BCE to the present.
  • Counseling and Psychotherapy Transcripts, Client Narratives, and Reference Works is a collection of counseling and therapy session transcripts and first-person narratives of the experiences of mental illness and treatment. It also contains secondary reference material.
  • Harvard University Library's Open Collections Program contains six subject-specific collections with over 2.3 million digitized pages, including more than 225,000 manuscript pages. These include the "Reading Project," the "Islamic Heritage Project," the "Expeditions and Discoveries Project," "Women Working, 1800-1930," and "Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930."

There are more featured links to Primary Resources & Databases in the Lesley University Archives guide, as well as a few helpful links for Tutorials & Guides and some Finding Aids for Lesley-specific primary sources.

If your topic relates to an event that occurred before 1923, there are likely relevant primary sources available in the public domain. Google Books has digitized and made available many such books.

Search for a specific work or for a general topic. Note, however, that Google Books also lists resources that are only available to preview. Look for resources with publication dates before 1923 and with a Read Preview link. The Advanced Book Search allows you to limit to Full view only books.

Screenshot of Google Books Advanced Search