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Research Guides

HIS101: Histories of Violence

What is a primary source?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation.

They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.

From: "Primary sources at Yale"


What kinds of thing can be primary sources?

Think about what kinds of primary sources might be related to your topic:







government documents

institutional records





Nowadays even your ipod, blog or facebook can be primary sources, because they reflect the reality of the times.

Three ways to find primary sources:

1. Start with what you already have: to uncover references to primary sources.

2. Use the library catalogue to find books and other materials.

3.  Use reliable online text collections.

Start with what you already have

The following may refer you to good primary sources on your topic. 

  • class notes
  • course readings
  • bibliographies of your textbook, journal articles, or other secondary sources
  • historical encyclopedias

They can also help you identify relevant historical figures authors, or keywords for searching library databases

Find books and other primary sources in the library catalogue

Combine keywords for different kinds of primary sources with keywords for your topic to find them in the library catalogue.


reformation sources

world war 1914 correspondence

nazi documents

national socialism documents


Primary source keywords

documents    sources
texts correspondence
diaries pamphlets
personal narratives interviews

Online text collections of primary sources

Use the Primary Sources for Historcial Research Guide to find reliable primary source databases.