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HIS 132 - American History II: Finding Primary Sources

This course is a survey of American history from the Civil War era to the present. Topics include industrialization, immigration, the Great Depression, the major American wars, the Cold War, and social conflict.

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic (the first version). A primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation. 

So when should someone use primary sources? To read eyewitness accounts or view photographs or video of an event instead of relying on a summarized explanation; to interpret data yourself instead of relying on another's interpretation; to reflect on and analyze works of literature or art instead of relying on another's opinion; to verify claims made in secondary sources. 

 pictures of primary documents

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • historical artifacts
  • original published results of an experiment
  • newspaper articles written at the time of the event
  • peer-reviewed articles
  • autobiographies
  • first-hand interviews
  • historical documents
  • Photographs, maps, postcards, posters
  • Diaries, journals, letters, speeches
  • Government records (census, marriage, military)
  • Creative works (songs, plays, novels, stories, paintings, drawings, sculptures)
  • Artifacts (Coins, furniture, tools, clothing)
  • Audio or video recordings (e.g. radio, television programs)
  • Internet communications (email, listservs, websites, tweets, blogs)
  • Original documents (e.g. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript)
  • Patents
  • Proceedings of meetings, conferences, and symposia
  • Records of organizations, government agencies (e.g. annual report, treaty, constitution, government document)
  • Survey research (e.g. market surveys, public opinion polls)
  • Advertisements
  • Original research article with raw data

Where can I find primary sources through RCCC?

Where can I find some primary sources online?

National Archives Logo

Search the National Archives for collections of documents that are important to American History.


Picture of the Library of CongressLibrary of congress logo

  • Historic Newspapers - Enhanced access to America's historic newspapers through the Chronicling America project.
  • Historic Sound Recordings - The National Jukebox features over 10,000 78rpm disc sides
  • Prints and Photographs - Catalog of about half of the Library's pictorial holdings with over 1 million digital images.
  • Veterans History Project - Experience first-person stories of wartime service through personal artifacts, audio and video interviews.


Department of State Office of the historian logo

The Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.

Pew Research

Pew Research Center logo

Recommended History Databases

Local or NC Sites for Primary Documents

Old churches

RCCC Presentation and Useful Link Sheet


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