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History Research Guide: Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary Sources: First hand evidence left behind by participants or observers at the time of events. 

Primary Source Types

Original Documentation: Autobiographies, memoirs, diaries, interviews, letters or email, video or film footage, photographs, speeches, newspapers, government documents, official records, and more. 

Creative Works: Art, drama, films, music, novels, and poetry.

Relics or Artifacts: Buildings, clothing, furniture, jewelry, and pottery.

Finding Primary Sources at ELAC Library

Use an ELAC Library Databases such as U.S. History in Context, World History in Context, or Historic Newspapers to find primary sources by conducting a keyword search on your topic:

  • Limit the Date Range of your search to match the time period you're researching
  • Use the Source Type(s) to identify primary source materials in multidisciplinary databases
    • Primary sources might be identified as historical newspapers, primary sources, or government documents
  • Include Search Term(s) that reference primary materials
    • Try including primary sources, letters, interviews, and/or manuscripts in addition to your original subject keywords

Primary Sources on the Web

Women Walking Road into Chavez Ravine

Women walking the road into Chavez Ravine

Image Source: Online Archive of California

Primary Source Research on the Web

If your research topic is contemporary, you can also want to search for primary sources on news and media websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, company sites, and other social media sites. 

Limit Your Web Search: 

Try searching for library, museum, and college or university websites or government websites for high-quality archival materials:


Other Sites:

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary Sources: Interpret historical events by examining primary sources and other secondary sources.

Secondary Source Types

Writings Based on Original Accounts or Artifacts

Books, journal articles, and criticism of art, music, artifacts, etc. written using original documentation or firsthand accounts. 

Written After Original Event

Secondary sources will be written and published after the original event took place.  

Finding Secondary Sources at ELAC Library

Secondary sources a great place to start when learning about your topic. These sources provide background and historical information. 

Books: Search the ELAC Library Catalog & CSULA Library Catalog

Note: Books can take many years to write and it's possible there won't be a book written on your specific topic and you may instead need to search for your general topic. 

Articles: Explore the ELAC Library Databases for magazine, newspaper, and scholarly journal articles.