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Waidner-Spahr Library

Please see our Library Services Updates: Summer & Fall 2021 website for the most up-to-date information about library services.

Research Process: Primary Sources

Use this guide to as a basic guide to research. Information is included on how to use keywords and phrases, evaluate a source. This guide can also help you identify primary and secondary sources and expand or narrow your searches.

Finding Primary Sources

For additional information on primary sources, see our guide to primary sources.

Primary Source Timeline

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

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is an account by an eyewitness, the first recorder of an event, the results of an original experiment, or documents produced at the time an event occurred. A primary source may be printed or electronic material and can include:

  • diaries
  • letters
  • notes
  • memoirs
  • personal papers
  • public documents
  • field research reports
  • minutes of meetings
  • news footage
  • newspaper articles
  • speeches
  • oral histories

Primary source material can also include creative works such as films, poetry, music, or art, and artifacts such as stone points, pottery, furniture, and buildings. Dickinson College owns primary material in fields such as Native American and scientific history, and also has many indexes and databases which will help you locate primary material.

Primary sources can be difficult to define, if you have questions you can ask a librarian or consult with your professor.