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History Research


About Primary Sources

Scholarly resources in all areas of historical research at Boston College

What is a Primary Source

Primary sources are items created contemporaneously to the event or time period you are studying. First hand accounts created after the fact are also considered primary sources.

Examples include:

  • Speeches
  • Diaries
  • Autobiographies/Memoirs
  • Letters
  • Interviews
  • Images
  • Audio or Video Recordings
  • Newspaper Articles
  • Magazine/Periodical Articles (written at the time studied)
  • Archival Records/Logs/Data
  • Political/Legal Documents
Note that some items that began their lives as secondary sources may be used as a primary source for your research. For example, a 1950's textbook discussing the Civil War and Reconstruction would not be a primary source about the Civil War. However, it could be a primary source regarding attitudes towards African Americans during the Civil Rights Era.

Finding Sources

Primary sources may be available in many different formats:

  • As original manuscripts, records, and printed texts in library, museum, and government archives
  • Reprinted and compiled as collections in monographs
  • Transferred to microfilm/microfiche
  • Digitally reproduced in library-subscribed databases or open websites

You may need to explore several different mediums and locations to discover relevant primary sources for your research.

Primary Source Print Collections at BC

This custom search box is configured to find print collections of primary sources at the BC Libraries on whatever topic that you enter.

Search BC Catalog for primary materials on a topic:

For example:

  • enter immigra* and hit Go for primary sources on immigrants or immigration
  • enter peace and hit Go for primary sources on peace movements

There are many other primary sources available via various electronic collections, as well. Explore the additional sections of this guide for recommended primary source databases.

Search Terms

When searching for primary sources in the BC Catalog, WorldCat, or any library catalog, try adding the following terms to your search:

  • Sources
  • Narratives
  • Correspondence
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Archives