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Primary Sources

Primary Sources Collections by Type & Additional Tips

A primary source is any artifact, media, or text created at the time under study that could serve as original evidence for an event or topic. Primary sources vary by discipline, but this guide is intended for any researcher who needs to gather evidence about the past, across a variety of formats, geographical regions, and time periods.

Note: This guide is mostly composed of proprietary databases to which the library subscribes. Follow the link for Tips for Finding Primary Sources to develop strategies for finding sources beyond UTC Library resources. See the History Research Guide for the best resources for secondary sources.

If you need help using this guide or have any questions, stop by the Commons Desk on the second floor of the library, or visit our Research Help page for other ways to seek research assistance.

Digitized Archival Collections

Government Documents

Historical Printed Materials

Local History

Newspapers and Periodicals

Local/Regional Newspapers

National Newspapers

International Newspapers


In the library's Quick Search (the catalog)

Use the Advanced Search in the library's Quick Search to find edited collections of primary sources.

  • In the first search box, enter keywords related to your topic.
  • In the second search box, copy and paste the following: 
"Archival resources" OR Archives OR Correspondence OR Diaries OR Interviews OR "Notebooks, sketchbooks" OR "Personal narratives" OR Photographs OR "Pictorial works" OR Sources OR Speeches
  • Click on "Search"
  • In the "Tweak your results" menu on the left, under "Format", check the boxes next to "Books (electronic)" and "Books (physical)"
  • Click on "Apply FiltersNote: If you want to revise your search but keep the book filters, hover your mouse over the selected filters and click on the lock icon on the left.

Books with primary sources are often cataloged with relevant subject headings or subheadings. If you are looking for a specific kind of primary source, you can use one of the following terms, but if you are looking for any primary source on your topic, separating each term with 'OR' will tell the Quick Search to look for any of those types of sources. 

Note: Most databases do not require capitalization for boolean operators such as 'or', but the Quick Search does. Make sure you put 'OR' in all caps when using this search function.

Commonly used library of congress subject headings and subheadings:

  • Archival resources
  • Archives
  • Correspondence Note: Use this if you are looking for letters.
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Notebooks, sketchbooks
  • Personal narratives
  • Photographs
  • Pictorial works
  • Sources
  • Speeches

On the internet

Archives, special collections, museums, and other institutions are increasingly digitizing their materials and making them freely available online. The most commonly used phrases on sites such as these are 'digital collections', 'primary sources', and 'papers'. A simple search in something like DuckDuckGo or Google for keywords related to your topic and one of those phrases will often lead you to websites with digitized primary sources.

Example

Searching DuckDuckGo for women's suffrage tennessee digital collections included a Tennessee Virtual Archive collection on this topic, as well as the holdings from the Digital Library of Tennessee in the first page of results. 

In the original repository

Primary sources are not always easily discoverable by search engines, so you might have to think about what institution or organization would have stored and preserved the sources. Questions you might consider:

It can also be helpful to think of what kind of organization might provide access to materials on your topic and perform a site search in the relevant domains. Search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Google allow you to add site:[insert site or domain] to any search, and your results will be restricted to sources in that site or domain.

Examples

A search for Puerto Rico site:fbi.gov will lead you to thousands of pages of declassified documents about the counterintelligence program directed at Puerto Rican nationalist groups in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

A search for Latinx digital collections site:.org will bring back results from organizations collecting and providing access to these materials.


Cited in secondary sources

If you have already found secondary sources on your topic, it can be helpful to see what primary sources the author used in their own research. There are a few different places where you will find this information:

  • The footnotes/endnotes throughout the text. Note: You might find abbreviations for sources in the middle of a text, so you will have to find the first reference to the source in an earlier footnote/endnote.
  • The beginning of the bibliography. Note: In scholarly history books, there will often be a section on primary sources separate from the secondary sources. In some cases, you will find a brief essay or note on sources.
  • The acknowledgements section. Note: Scholars often make note of the archivists, librarians, or institutions that assisted them in their research. This can be a great way of determining institutions that have collection strengths relevant to your topic.
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