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History Portal


Primary Sources

Scholarly resources in all areas of historical research at Boston College.

What is a Primary Source

Primary Sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic from people who had a direct connection with it. Primary sources can include:

  • Political/legal documents
  • Newspaper, magazine, and periodical articles (written at the time studied)
  • Speeches, diaries, letters, and interviews
  • Datasets (ex. census records)
  • Images
  • Audio or video recordings

Finding Sources

Primary sources may be available in many different formats:

  • Original manuscripts, records, and printed texts in library, museum, and government archives
  • Reprinted and compiled as collections in monographs
  • Transferred to microfilm or 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. Consult the History Research Guide for guidance. 

Search the BC Catalog for Primary Sources

Search the physical collections at BC Libraries to find primary sources on a particular 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

Other primary sources are available through digital collections and 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