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Waidner-Spahr Library

History: Primary Sources

These pages will help you learn the process of research for history classes.

Primary Source Timeline

See our Primary Source Timeline to browse a selection of primary source databases organized by coverage dates and locations.

Primary Sources

A primary source is material produced at the time of an event, or by a person being studied. Examples of primary sources are:

  • personal and professional correspondence
  • professional papers
  • diaries and memoirs
  • manuscripts
  • political documents
  • photographs and other images
  • works of art and literature
  • artifacts
  • speeches
  • autobiographies
  • interviews and oral histories
  • newspapers and magazine articles when written at the time of an event

Whenever possible, primary sources should be consulted. The thoughts of those who lived through an era or an event provide you with first-hand perspective on history, and allow you to question and challenge the assumptions made in secondary sources.  Examining primary sources can also help you develop a thesis.

Primary sources can be difficult to find. Most databases do not have an option that allows for direct searching on primary sources. They are often interspersed in books or disorganized in large collections of materials. Detailed information about how to locate primary sources can be found on our Finding Primary Sources page.

Consult with Archives & Special Collections to locate Dickinson-related primary sources.

In addition, the databases below contain digitized copies of  primary sources that are useful for general historical study.  Additional primary source databases can be found in the Special Topics section of this guide.


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Jill Anderson

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