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American History

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Brenda Smith
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Mon-Fri: 9-5 (or by appointment)

About Primary Sources

TRU Library owns or has access to a number of primary sources for history. This page outlines how to locate these primary source documents.

Primary sources are first-hand accounts from the time period involved. They were created by someone directly involved in the events you’re studying, at the time of the event (or very soon after). They serve as “raw material” to help researchers get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period

For examplediaries, letters, photographs, art, maps, original video, film or sound recordings, interviews, or newspaper articles

Secondary sources are created after the fact by individuals or groups who did NOT witness the events being discussed. They describe, analyze, interpret, report, or correlate the information about an event, thing, idea, or someone's life based on their study of primary material AFTER the events in question. They are often based on primary sources.

For example: scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, biographies, or textbooks

Finding Primary Sources


Two options (and you will get very different results, so try both):

Option 1:

Run your search and then click on the "show more" link under the "Content Type" option to refine your results. Select "Primary Source Documents" and then click on the update" button. (NOTE: Does not work very well)

Option 2:

Run your search and then click on the "Advanced Search" link underneath the search box. In the second box, add one of the following subheadings to limit your search results and change the search from "select a field" to " SU subject":

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • early works to 1800
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources

Note: "sources" is the most useful term

For example, if you wish to do a search for primary sources on American women, use:

women history sources united states

Or, if you wish to do a search for primary sources on Native Americans, use:

history sources indians of north america

(NOTE: for online searching, capitalizing the search terms (i.e., history) does not make a difference, but captitalizing the search operators (i.e., AND, OR) does. 

Another great resource is a multi-volume work full of primary sources:

American decades primary sources / edited by Cynthia Rose
E169.1 .A471977 2004 

Here are some collections of primary sources on American history. Be sure to use the tips in the "Via Discover"  tab to locate many more primary sources