Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?


Primary sources are original materials that are created at the time the historical event (or events) has occurred or has been witnessed. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, oral histories, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research (definition adapted from the Reference and User Services Association's Using Primary Resources on the Web guide).

Finding Books


Books are still the main source when it comes to finding primary source material. Niagara University Library has a large collection of personal papers, letters, autobiographies, memoirs and narratives.

To locate books owned by Niagara University Library, use the Library Catalog.

If you want to search for primary source materials that are owned by  other libraries, then try searching WorldCat, a catalog that contains references to more than 57 million items owned by 9,000 libraries worldwide. Don't worry - if you need a book owned by another library, you can request it. To learn how, jump to the section called Obtaining Materials NU Library Does Not Own.

The Library also has the following two indexes that are excellent resources for primary source materials.

  • New York Times Index 1851-1997
  • Readers Guide to Periodical Literature 1890-1997

Both of these are located in the oversized book section on the basement level of the Library.

Finding Primary Sources in NU Library Databases


To find primary sources, use the following databases:

The New York Times (Historical) via ProQuest 
Offers full-text and full-image articles beginning with the newspaper's first issue in 1851. You can access news, editorials, letters to the editor, obituaries, birth and marriage announcements, historical photos, stock photos and advertisements.

Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1820
This database contains books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints listed in the renowned bibliography by Charles Evans.

Historical Statistics of the United States
The is the standard source for the quantitative facts of American history and covers topics like American Indians, crime, health, poverty and slavery.

Women and Social Movements in the United States
Includes archives and full-text documents written by primary authors.

Finding Primary Sources on the Web


The following web sites are just a few examples of what is available on the web for  primary source material:

To find additional primary source websites simply log into Google and type “Primary Source Documents.” To be more specific, add another keyword to your search. For example, “Primary Source Documents” women.

Obtaining Materials NU Library Does Not Own


If you need an article or a book that NU Library does not own, you can make use of Interlibrary Loan to obtain it.

Tip: In a hurry? If the article or book you need is owned by another library in Western New York, you can visit that library and use their resources on site (view a list of Western New York library web sites).

Please note: If you wish to borrow a book from another Western New York library, you can get an InfoPass card at the Reference Desk.

Citing Your Sources


Check with your professor first, but the most commonly used style manuals in the History Department are:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style.(Ref LB2369 .C45 2003)
  • A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations / Kate L. Turabian. (Ref LB2369 .T8 2007)

Copies of these manuals are available in the Reference Collection. They are not available online.

You can try a Google search of "Chicago Style or Turabian Style" to see other guides. You will find many sites listed that provide examples of both of these styles. The first few that are listed tend to be reliable, but you will have to be careful.

Tip: Please talk to your professor if you have questions about how to cite your sources.