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History: Research Paper Basics 2024: Finding Primary Sources

This guide is designed to help history students successfully complete their next research paper assignment

What are Primary Sources? According to the Library of Congress, "primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience." The definition of a primary source may vary depending upon the discipline or context.

Examples include: artifacts; audio recordings; diaries; internet communications and email; interviews; letters; newspaper articles written at the time; original documents such as a birth certificate, will, marriage license or trial transcripts; patents; photographs; proceedings of meetings, conferences and symposia; records of organizations and government agencies such as an annual report, treaty, constitution, government document; speeches; survey research; video recordings; works of art, architecture, literature, and music; websites.

In addition to searching our catalog and databases for primary sources, you can find many primary sources online. On this page you will find resources to help you locate primary resources at Copley Library and online.

Tips for locating Primary Sources

  1. Find a  library guide related to your topic. Academic Librarians across the world create research guides on all sorts of topics including locating primary sources related to specific research topics.

  2. Visit Government Agency websites like the Census Bureau and National Archives.

  3. Look for city and county offices as well as data-portals for large cities and counties like San Diego and Los Angeles; both have online data portals.

  4. Identify and contact local archives, museums, and libraries (SD History Center). 

  5. Limit search results in Copley databases to document types such as speeches, interviews or newspaper etc…

  6. Look for databases that contain primary sources: Such as African American Experience. 

  7. Search newspaper databases such as U.S. Major Dailies or NYT Archive. Copley's Newspaper Guide offers links to all the newspapers we provide access to.

  8. Look at the primary sources being used by relevant secondary sources. Where do they come from? Can you get access to any collections they may have had access too for their research.

  9. Consider search terms in library catalogs. Terms such as “Sources”, “Statistics”, as well as subjects such as “Demographics”, can yield results for primary sources.

  10. Ask a Librarian for assistance. You may want to ask if your library has any specific tools or memberships that provide access to primary sources. For example, Copley is a member of the Center for Research Libraries, a consortium that supports research by making rare primary sources accessible. Likewise, we are a member of Hathi Trust and offer access to their digital library. 

Copley Newspapers

Credo: Primary Sources in Academic Core: History

Select Primary Source Collections Online

African American Experience

America's Historical Documents: National Archives

American Civil War Letters and Diaries

American Film Scripts Online

American Founder's Online

American Indian Experience

American Journey's

Americas Archive

Avalon Project

Black Thought and Culture

Center for Research Libraries

Center for Kurdish Studies Online Resources

China, America, and the Pacific

Civil Rights Digital Library

Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative

Digital History

Digital Library on American Slavery

Digital Public Library of America

Digital Scriptorium

Discovering American Women's History

Documenting the American South

Duke Papyrus Archive

Electronic Tools and Ancient Near East Archives

Epigraphic Database Heidelberg 


European History Primary Sources

Everyday Life & Women in America, 1800-1920

The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)

Genocide Archive of Rwanda

Hathi Trust Digital Library

Imaging Inscriptions

Internet Ancient History Sourcebook

Internet Archive

Internet Modern History Sourcebook

Internet African History Sourcebook

Internet East Asian History Sourcebook

Internet Indian History Sourcebook

Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Internet Sacred Texts

Kansas City Public Library, Civil War on the Western Border

Library of Congress - American Memory

Library of Congress Digital Collections

Library of Congress- Chronicling America: Digital Newspapers

Liberian Collections: Indiana University

Library of Congress- Newspapers Index's

Library of Congress: Primary Sources

Life and Times of Jorge Luis Borges (on campus only)

Manuscript Women's Letters and Diaries: American Antiquarian Society, 1750-1950

Music Treasures Consortium

National Archives: DocsTeach

New York Public Library, What's on the Menu

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories

North American Women's Letters and Diaries

Online Archive of California

Perseus Digital Library

Salem Witch Trials Archive and Transcription Project

Scrolls of the Dead Sea

Social and Cultural History: Letters and Diaries

South Asian American Digital Archive

The Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae

Thesaurus linguae Graecae

University of Minnesota, Clarence Darrow Digital Collection

Victorian Web

Wellcome Collection

Wilson Center, Digital Archives

Working Women 1800-1930

World Digital Library

Yad Vashem Digital Collections

Data: Federal Agencies

Data: Los Angeles County

Data: San Diego County

National Center for education statistics


US Census Bureau


American Fact Finder


Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nexus Uni

Statistical Abstracts of the United States. Note: To access the most current data, please refer to the organizations cited in the source notes for each table of the Statistical Abstract.

Additional Web Resources

Logging In To Hathi Trust

Introduction to Internet Archive

Primary Sources


ArchiveGrid helps researchers looking for primary source materials held in archives, libraries, museums and historical societies.

Foreign Language Press Survey