What Are Primary Sources? Primary source material is contemporaneous with the event, person, or phenomena studied; designating an original document, source, or text rather than one of criticism, discussion, or summary. Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or sometimes 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.
Use Library Search to find primary sources available through Temple University Libraries. Think about the types of documents that you would like to retrieve. The term Sources is used as a subheading to identify primary-source material. Other primary-source subheadings include Personal Narratives, Correspondence, and Diaries. You can add these terms to a search to retrieve primary source materials.
Example: A researcher needs to find primary-source documents on the Civil Rights Movement. You can search
"United States" and "Civil Rights" and Sources
The following keyword searches reveal citations to books that contain primary documents relating to Civil Rights in the United States.
No search for primary-source materials is complete without a visit to the Library of Congress Digital Collections. This vast collection can be keyword searched or browsed by topic, time period, or media types that include manuscripts, maps, motion pictures, photos, video recordings, and more.
"Making of America (MOA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history primarily from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology" (University of Michigan).
Making of America Journals - Over 50,000 journal articles currently available.
NARA offers one of the richest repositories for U.S. history, but only a relatively small portion of the collection is available online.
National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults contains 1,200 documents, photographs, drawings, maps, and other materials drawn from the vast holdings of the National Archives and covering all periods of U.S. history to about 2004.
The Archival Facility for NARA's Mid-Atlantic Region is located in Center City Philadelphia.
"In 1965, Robert Penn Warren wrote a book, now out of print, entitled Who Speaks for the Negro? To research this publication, he traveled the country and spoke with a variety of people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He spoke with nationally-known figures as well as people working in the trenches of the Movement. The volume contains many of the transcripts from these conversations. The Who Speaks for the Negro? Archive [from Vanderbilt University Libraries] contains digitized versions of the original reel-to-reel recordings, as well as copies of the correspondence, transcripts, and other printed materials related to his research for the provocatively-titled book."
"Documenting the American South (DocSouth) is a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. Currently DocSouth includes ten thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs" (University of North Carolina).
The following databases -- most Temple-only, one open-access -- provide electronic reproductions of full-text primary-source documents including maps, letters, diaries, oral histories, memoirs and other personal narratives. Many of these databases are relevant to the history of other parts of the world such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Find visual materials such as drawings and paintings, still photographs and videos.