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History (Primary Sources Only): Primary Sources - Overview

A guide to finding primary sources online and in libraries and archives at Temple, the country, and world.

Regional Primary Sources

Research Manuals

Book-length guides to conducting historical research and locating and evaluating primary sources.

Find Printed Primary Sources at Temple

  • Use the Library Search and enter keywords on your research topic.
  • Look for records in which the Subject includes the words Sources, Personal Narratives, Correspondence, or Diaries as a subheading. When you see these subheadings it means that you have found the record for a primary source located in the physical or online library.
  • You can also try using the terms Sources, Personal Narratives, Correspondence, or Diaries in Library Search along with your keywords.
  • An example subject heading for primary sources on the American Civil War is: United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Sources.
  • Try the subject links in the records for any useful items you find. These will take you to additional primary sources on the same topic.

Find Primary Sources at Temple Libraries: More Options

Temple University Libraries provide access to numerous primary-source history databases. Explore them all from the Primary Sources - Europe and Primary Sources - United States sub-tabs of this guide. The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC)Urban Archives, and the Blockson Collection are all important archival repositories located on Temple's main campus.  Several major in-house digitization efforts have resulted in the online availability of thousands of images and manuscripts from these collections, all of which are available through our Digital Collections search page. The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PASCL) has a smiliar page with finding aides and a search feature. Find links to other area institutions with significant archival collections in the Philadelphia Area tab of this guide.


Digital reproductions of primary documents in American and European history are now relatively abundant online. Link to some of the best free portals -- EuroDocs, American Memory, etc. -- from the Primary Sources - Europe and Primary Sources - United States tabs of this guide. Recall that the vast majority of primary documents remain available only in paper. These can take the form of reproductions of letters and diaries published in commonly-held books or rare manuscripts available only in a single library or archive.

What Are Primary Sources?

"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research" (Source: Using Primary Sources on the Web, a website created by the History Section of the American Library Association designed to help researchers locate, evaluate, and properly cite online primary sources).

Scholars analyze and interpret primary sources in secondary works, particularly scholarly monographs (books) and peer-reviewed journal articles. Secondary sources need not be scholarly, however, and can include popular magazine and newspaper articles, non-academic biographies, textbooks, or websites. Please contact your professor or me if you are having difficulty differentiating between primary and secondary sources. Occasionally you might come across a reference to a "tertiary" source. Tertiary sources are essentially reference works; they list, index, summarize, or in some other way facilitate access to both primary and secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources in history include Historical Abstracts and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Quick Link to Primary Source Databases

More Options

The following TULibraries' databases and research tools will help users track down both paper and digital archives. The list includes links to digital collections, virtual exhibitions, and finding aids of TULibraries' Special Collections Research Center (SCRC).