Research Guide: Primary Sources

This guide was created to help you learn more about primary sources

Digitized Books

Using Historical Books

Books published during the historical time period you are researching are primary sources. Search Google Books for digitized copies:

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image shows the advanced search of Google Books, showing how to search by keyword and how to limit book results by date - limiting to historical dates to find primary sources within

Finding Primary Source Books in the Library

Search the "Holman Library One Search" for Primary Source Books

Search strategies

To find primary sources, try...

Combining search words for your topic PLUS any of the the search words below:

  • personal narratives
  • correspondence
  • pictorial works 
  • sources
  • interviews
  • literary collections
  • songs and music
  • diary or diaries

Example of a primary source book:

image of a primary source book called "six women's slave narratives"

  • This was found using a search for "slave narratives"

Example Searches: 
  • 19th century sources
  • japanese americans interviews
  • war cartoons 
  • united states civil war pictorial works
  • holocaust personal narratives
  • cold war sources

Primary sources in US & World History in Context

Searching for Primary Sources

U.S. History in Context is a great database to find primary sources. You can limit to primary sources or search for just a specific kind of source. Use the information and the images in the example search below to guide you in your search. 

  1. Search on a subject (keep your subject broad): Examples: Korean War, Japanese American Internment...etc.
  2. When looking for only primary sources, limit to "Primary sources" under "by content type" as shown below.
    • Notice that you can also limit to full-text (so you see only results you can immediately download

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advanced search showing how to limit to primary sources and full text

Notice once you've limited to primary sources and see the results, there is a way to further narrow, or at least look to see what types of sources are included in the results such as government document, speech, editorial, excerpt, interview...etc.

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search results showing how to limit by primary source type

Suggested Books

Suggested Books for Primary Sources

Each guidebook provides suggestions for primary sources for different events in history.

Suggested reference books