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High School History Guide: Library Introduction & Resources: Primary Sources

Understanding What Primary Sources Are and How to Locate

Primary sources connect the historian to the past. They are 'items that are directly associated with their producer or user and the time period in which they were created. Examples include diaries, newspaper articles, government documents, clothing, photographs, oral interviews, and news broadcasts.' (Presnell 93)

Secondary sources are works written by historians that use primary sources as evidence in a particular argument.

Types of Primary Sources Types of Secondary Sources
  • Public records
  • Books
  • Letters,diaries, etc.
  • Book chapters
  • Artifacts/relics
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Business/corporate records

  • Artworks

  • Architecture/city plans/maps
  • Media and public communication
  • Literary texts
  • Pamphlets/blogs
  • Newspapers

Locating primary resources in the Kenyon Library may be done through our online catalog, CONSORT (remember to narrow your search in CONSORT to just the Kenyon Library).  You should note that many primary resources are not written with the thought of future publication of the written materials, rather, they may be correspondence, diaries or private papers saved by the creator or a family member for sentimental reasons and published many years later.  The publication date is not as important in this case , rather, the researcher would focus on the date of creation.  

How then does a researcher access diaries, letters, etc. in CONSORT?  Start by constructing a keyword search.  For example, if I was interested in reading letters written during Civil War I would start my search with these the keywords:

united states civil war letters = the results list of 168 items can be overwhelming, so to narrow (or focus) my search I might add another term

united states civil war letters nurse = the resulting entries (2) allow me to focus my research on a more manageable reading list

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Primary Sources

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