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Primary Sources and Original Research

Helpful tips on locating and evaluating primary sources and original research

Primary Sources by Subject

Each field of study has its own world of sources, conventions, and vocabularies.  The list that follows is not all inclusive, but will help you to identify primary sources in your own discipline.  In general, personal correspondence and diaries or journals are considered to be primary sources by all disciplines. If you are unsure that a source is considered primary by your discipline, ask your professor or a reference librarian for assistance.

  • Archaeology/Anthropology: an artifact or object that provides evidence of a society, such as clothing, farming tools, household items, and buildings. 
  • Arts and Literature: the original artistic or literary work that forms the basis for a criticism or review, such as feature films, musical compositions, sound recordings, paintings, novels, plays, and poems.

  • Biology: research or lab notes, genetic evidence, plant specimens, technical reports, and other reports of original research or discoveries (e.g., conference papers and proceedings, dissertations, scholarly articles).

  • Business: market research or surveys, anything that documents a corporation's activities, such as annual reports, meeting minutes, legal documents, marketing materials, and financial records.

  • Communication: websites, blogs, broadcast recordings and transcripts, advertisements and commercials, public opinion polls, and magazines (e.g., Rolling Stone).

  • Engineering: design notes, patents, conference proceedings, technical reports, and field surveys.

  • Geography: field notes, census data, maps, satellite images, and aerial photographs.

  • History: government documents (e.g., treaty, birth certificate), photographs, store account books, artifacts (such as those listed for archaelogy/anthropology), maps, legal and financial documents, and census records.

  • Law: court decisions, trial trancripts, and law codes.

Source:  David Kupas's "Finding  Primary Sources" libguide:  URL:

Tips for finding Primary Sources

Tip: Try searching for digital copies of primary source material by using the phrase "digital collections"  or "digital archive" as part of your search along with keywords that describe your topic.

For example:

September 11 Digital Archive -- The September 11 Digital Archive uses electronic media to collect, preserve, and present the history of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. The Archive contains more than 150,000 digital items, a tally that includes more than 40,000 emails and other electronic communications, more than 40,000 first-hand stories, and more than 15,000 digital images.

AdViews: A Digital Archive of Vintage Television Commercials -- AdViews is a digital archive of thousands of vintage television commercials dating from the 1950s to the 1980s.


Also, GALILEO  has many digital collections on a variety of topics listed under "Archives and Primary Sources" and "Digital Collections and Repositories".  See the complete list of categories under "Browse by Type".