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HIST 205: American History to 1865

Kathleen Walkner

Primary Sources

A primary source is a document or piece of evidence written or created during the time period you are studying. A primary source allows you to examine evidence firsthand without being affected by other opinions.

Types of Primary Sources:

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Memos/E-mails
  • Speeches (both the text of the speech & the giving of the speech)
  • Manuscripts
  • Autobiographies
  • Interviews
  • Patents
  • Laws, legislation, court rulings
  • Newspaper & magazine articles as an event happened
  • News footage
  • Raw data
  • Artifacts: buildings, clothes, jewelry, toys, fossils
  • Journal articles reporting original research or an experiment
  • Official records of governments, agencies, organizations: meeting minutes, reports, vital records (e.g., Census records)
  • Creative works: poetry, novels, drama, music, art, photography, movies, scripts, performances
  • Technical reports (i.e., accounts of work done on research projects)

Use Search@UW to find primary sources in books

Searching Tip

Books are great places to look for primary sources! Historians may have already put together collections of primary sources in a book for you. You might try looking for books containing sermons, military histories, government publications, etc. You may even come across a book written by someone from the time period you are studying. 

Recommended Databases

Note on Searching for Government Publications

These types of databases are not ideal or really meant for browsing. It works best if you have a certain publication you have in mind and are looking for. This could be a court case, amendment , congressional bill, etc. We recommend you identify the name of what you are looking for first (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) and then try looking up the primary source in these resources. This can be challenging so please refer to our guides listed below. If you are still have trouble, navigate to the research help page of this guide to connect with a librarian for assistance. 

Online Resources

Not Finding What You are Looking For? 

If you still can't find what you are looking for, click on the research help page of this guide to connect with a librarian!

Otherwise, consider setting up a research appointment with Sarah, your course librarian. Send her an email at with dates and times to set up an appointment.