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History Research Guide: Primary Sources

What's a Primary Source?

Primary sources are documents created at the time of interest. They offer a firsthand or "primary" view of historical events, people and topics.  Examples include:

  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Sermons
  • Financial records
  • Newspaper articles published at the time
  • Government and institutional documents

Historical Census Data Online

Primary Sources in Print and Microfilm

The Mansfield Library owns thousands of books and microfilm reels that contain transcriptions or reproductions of personal papers, business records and government agency records. Search in OneSearch for keywords or title words such as sources, papers or papers of, documents or documents of, manuscripts, records, diary or diaries, journal or journals, narrative or narratives, reminiscences, letters and similar terms.

Some examples:

  • Documents of Soviet History (book)
  • The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower (book)
  • Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: Central Classified Files, 1907-1939 (microfilm)
  • Western Americana, Frontier History of the Trans-Mississippi West, 1550-1900 (microfilm)
  • Women’s Studies Manuscript Collections from the Schlesinger Library, Series 2, Women in National Politics (microfilm)
  • Journals published by state historical societies, such as Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana, often contain transcripts of primary source accounts of life and activities in that state.

Primary Sources in Library Databases (see also Newspapers)

Use your NetID and password to access library databases off campus.

Free Primary Sources (see also Newspapers)