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U.S. History: Primary Sources

This U.S. history guide focuses on information resources best suited for meeting the research needs of Oakton Community College students and faculty.

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are the evidence of history, original records or objects created by participants or observers at the time historical events occurred or even well after events, as in memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include but are not limited to: letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, maps, speeches, interviews, documents produced by government agencies, photographs, audio or video recordings, born-digital items (e.g. emails), research data, and objects or artifacts (such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons). These sources serve as the raw materials historians use to interpret and analyze the past.

"Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, Evaluating, Using", American Library Association, 2015. (Accessed August 24, 2020)

Embroidered sampler from 1791

(Image Credit: Embroidered Sampler, by Rebekah S. Munro, 1791. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Barbara Schiff Sinauer, 1984. Public domain.)

Online repositories of primary sources - a selective list

Best subheadings for finding primary sources in the library catalog

Combine the subheadings in the list below with other search terms. For example:

African Americans - Sources
Soldiers - Personal narratives
United States - History - Sources

  • correspondence
  • interviews
  • sources
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • pamphlets
  • oral history
  • maps
  • speeches, addresses, etc.

Assistance for using primary sources