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Introduction to Graduate Study: ENG 5001

Research help for Miles Orvell's course, "History of Critical Theory."

Video Tutorials on Primary & Secondary Sources

Why Use Primary Sources?

brown paper and black penPrimary sources are firsthand accounts of an event -- or original records created during that time period -- which do not contain any outside interpretation. Primary sources can include letters, diaries, or interviews; historical news reportage; original works of fiction, art, or music; testimony or speeches.

When and Why You Should Use Primary Sources:

  • You need a better understanding of an event, produced by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question
  • You need to offer a view of history through the lens of of unique, often profoundly personal, documents or objects
  • You need examples of different points of view from individuals whose stories might not have been told

Remember: Primary sources are the building blocks of historical research and should provide the foundation of your argument and interpretation, whereas secondary sources should inform and supplement the primary sources. Use your primary sources as evidence for answering your research question and write based on those sources, rather than “plugging them in” after the fact to bolster your argument. In short, primary sources should drive the paper, not the other way around.

Quick Links to Primary Source Databases

The Libraries has hundreds of databases just focused on primary sources. Browse some of the following lists. Read the descriptions to choose a relevant source. Or, take a look at the primary sources organized by sub-type and/or region on the English Language & Literature guide as well as the History guide.

Tips for Finding Print and Digital Primary Sources in Library Search

Many primary-source documents have been reproduced in books commonly held in research libraries. You can use Library Search to retrieve this material.

  • Enter your search terms and then select the Books & Media box.
  • Try adding keywords such as CorrespondenceDiariesInterviewsPersonal Narratives, and Sources along with your research topic to identify printed primary sources.
  • You can also filter for these terms under "Genre" to the left of your search results.
  • When you find a title of interest, such as personal narratives from the first World War, select the hyper-linked subjects in the item record to find additional titles. For example, the heading: World War, 1914-1918--Personal Narratives.