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HIS 105, South: What Is a Primary Source?

United States History: 1865 to the Beginning of the 21st Century



 What are primary sources?  Primary sources (original objects or documents) provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence of an event or time period.  They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.  "The purpose of primary sources is to capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened." (

If you are searching for speeches, addresses, and letters, you may find both the primary source (original) and the secondary source.   For most assignments, it is the content that is important.

Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring.  Primary sources can include the following:

  • autobiographies, memoirs
  • oral histories, interviews
  • artifacts
  • Historic sites 
  • speeches, addresses                                                                               
  • photographs
  • letters, newspapers
  • and much more

Where can you find primary sources?  Primary sources can be found in libraries, archives, museums, agencies, and many other institutions.   

For your assignments, the best place in the CCAC Library to locate primary sources and secondary sources will be in the library databases, the online catalog and in the librarian-selected websites.  Use the tabs or pages above to search.

What are secondary sources?
This site from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University Library explains everything you ever wanted to know about secondary sources: 
Finding Secondary Sources

(Partial text taken from
Image from


"Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources" The Hartness Library, Community College of Vermont


Below are some websites offering more details about and examples of primary sources.

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