Skip to main content

HS5390 - Senior Thesis I: Historical Methods

Resources for research and exploration for HS5390 students. Includes the in-class research activity and materials related to the Zotero citation management program.

What is a primary source?

A primary source is a first hand account of an event and/or an object or document created by a person or in a place being researched.

Primary sources are contextual.  So, for instance, a newspaper article may be primary source for one topic (an first hand account from the time being studied) OR if could be a secondary source (discussion of an event that occurred in the past). There is nothing inherent in a document that makes it a primary or secondary source. The content, not the format/container, determines if a item is a primary source for your topic.

This guide lists a variety of primary source types that can be found online, at the Blume Library, and in the San Antonio - Austin area.

"Primary sources are 'original' materials that provide you with the 'raw data' or evidence you will use to develop, test, and ultimately justify your hypothesis or claim. What kinds of material count as primary sources vary significantly by field. In history, primary sources are artifacts or documents that come directly from the period or event you are studying: letters, diaries, objects, maps, even clothing." (Booth, Craft of Research, 4th ed., p. 66)


"Primary sources are items that are directly associated with the producer or user and the time period in which they were created. Examples include diaries, newspaper articles, government documents, clothing, photographs, oral interviews, and news broadcasts." (Presnell)


Primary Sources - helpful search terms

To find primary sources on you topic, try searching you topic (ex: witchcraft, slavery, Texas, Bexar, etc.) in combination with one of the following words:

Search Term When To Use It
sources generic term, often produces the most results
archive use with organizations, individuals and families
archival resources use with topics and geographic areas (counties, cities, etc.)
correspondence use with individuals, familes, classes of people, ethnic groups
diaries use with individuals and families
manuscripts use with individuals
notebooks, sketchbooks, etc. use with individuals
personal narratives use with names of events
personnel records use with organizations and military units
records and correspondence

use with organizations and groups

speeches, addresses, etc

use with individuals or groups


Example Search

A search in or the Library Catalog on the terms "slaves and correspondence" finds books that includes primary source material on African Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction. You can search for multiple keywords, in the Library Catalog or in Worldcat, by combining multiple terms with the word OR.  Ex: (sources OR correspondence OR diaries OR manuscripts OR narratives OR personnel records OR speeches)

Various WorldCat interfaces

Access to the Library Catalog from the Blume Library

Use Google Advanced Search to Locate Primary Source Collections

Google Advanced Search will be a useful tool to help locate online primary source collections if you do not find ideas from the Online Primary Source page list of resources.  You can tie your topic search with the following terms to find online primary source collections.  

Feel free to copy and paste the following into the Google Advanced search box labeled "any of these words"

repository digital archive virtual digitized primary

I recommend limiting your search to the site or domain.  For instance, edu for educational institutions or gov for government websites, or various country code for non-United States website.  Org website are defined broadly so be very careful to evaluate sources from org websites.  

You should always evaluate all sources you use. Ask yourself questions about the website:

Who created it?  Why did they create it? When was it created or last updated? What is it; what do you know about it? Where does this material come from?

Video: Finding Primary Source Collections with Google Advanced Search.