Answered By: Deborah Kelley-Milburn
Last Updated: Jul 15, 2015     Views: 478

Primary sources are those closest to the event or subject being studied.  Typically, they are eyewitness accounts, usually produced during the same period, although they can appear later in forms such as autobiographies or oral histories.

Therefore, primary sources are so designated by their content, and they can appear in a variety of formats such as contemporary newspaper articles, diaries, letters, interviews, speeches, film footage, photographs, government documents, autobiographies, poetry, drama, music, art, and many others.  They can be original documents/objects, or published in books, digital collections or microfilm.

Just as there are many types of primary sources, there are many ways to search for them.  The best place to start is with secondary sources; check their bibliographies to find what sources the author utilized. 

You can search the HOLLIS catalog for primary sources by  combining topic keywords with source descriptions such as correspondence, diaries, early works, interviews, pamphlets, personal narratives or sources.  For example, "civil war memoirs" or "russian revolution manuscripts."  Harvard has many libraries with wonderful special collections; Hollis will provide broad, collection-level descriptions, and you can search OASIS for detailed inventories of manuscript collections.

You can also search newspaper collections or E-text collections such as Literature Online (LION), Early English Books Online (EEBO) or Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).


This just scratches the surface, but I hope it gets you started.  If you need additional assistance, contact your research contact/library liaison or the Widener Reference Desk at 617-495-2411.

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