Understanding primary sources
If you are seeking to learn about the past, primary sources of information are those that provide first-hand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are researching. In general, these are documents that were created by the witnesses or first recorders of these events at about the time they occurred, and include diaries, letters, reports, photographs, creative works, financial records, memos, and newspaper articles (to name just a few types).
Also because primary sources are interdisciplinary it may be helpful to check out the Primary Source section of the History Subject Guide.
Primary sources also include first-hand accounts that were documented later, such as autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories. However, the most useful primary sources are usually considered to be those that were created closest to the time period you’re researching.
Determining which kinds of documents constitute primary sources depends upon the topic you’re researching. (For example, sometimes the same book or article could be considered a primary source for one research topic and a secondary source for a different topic.)
For Example: The painting of Washington Crossing The Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze was painted in 1851.
This painting is both a primary and secondary source depending on what you are researching.
It is a primary source if you are studying the painter Emanuel Leutze or art and paintings from the late 19th century.
It is a secondary source if you are studying the American Revolution or the actual event of Washington crossing the Delaware, this is because the events depicted in the painting took place in 1776, over 50 years before the painting was painted. Emanuel Leutze was not present for the events he is depicting so it cannot be a primary source for those events.
Falvey Library Distinctive Collections
The Irish Press was a weekly newspaper dedicated to Irish nationalism and to topics of interest to Irish-Americans. It was founded by Joseph McGarrity and published in Philadelphia from March 23, 1918 to May 6, 1922. Falvey Memorial Library has now digitized the complete run of this newspaper.
Online version from the Digital LIbrary@Villanova University
African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (Accessible Archives)
America's Historical Newspapers (Readex)
American Periodicals (ProQuest)
Black Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
British Library Newspapers (Gale)
British Periodicals (ProQuest)
Digital Transgender Archive (College of the Holy Cross)
Irish Times (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
LGBT Magazine Archive (ProQuest)
LGBT Thought and Culture (Alexander Street Press)
New York Times: 1851- (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
Nineteenth Century UK Periodicals (Gale)
The Come Out Archive
Times (London) Digital Archive, 1785-2012 (Gale)
Washington Post Historical: 1877- (ProQuest)
Databases for Primary Sources
Indexes reviews of fiction and nonfiction English-language books. Reviews are selected from academic journals, magazines, and library review journals. Covers reviews published between 1903 and 1982.
Empire Online (Adam Matthew Digital)
Contains documents spanning five centuries, 1492 to 1962, including a variety of manuscripts and printed and visual source materials for the study of 'Empire' and its theories, practices and consequences. Material is accompanied by scholarly essays, chronology links shared with a Global Commodities collection, brief biographies, external links, and interactive maps.
Everyday Life and Women in America (Adam Matthew Digital) Tutorial
Contains periodicals, monographs, pamphlets, and broadsides that shine a light on American social, cultural, and popular history in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The documents in the collection address themes including popular culture, social history, race, domestic life, education, religion, class, and fashion and beauty. Highlights include advice literature, popular and sensational fiction, and the full run of Town Topics: The Journal of Society (1887-1923) as well as a variety of local and regional women's magazines. Also provides an interactive chronology and contextual essays. Sourced from the originals in the collections of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History at Duke University and The New York Public Library.
J. Walter Thompson: Advertising America (Adam Matthew Digital)
Facilitates access to select internal documents of J. Walter Thompson, an American advertising agency from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. The wide-ranging documents are not limited to visual ads and copy, but also include staff meeting minutes, new client prospecting records, and client account studies detailing the firm's relationship management with clients. Iconic campaigns such as “7Up, The uncola,” “Kraft, What’s for dinner?” and “The Marines, A few good men” are detailed as are their accounts with Ford, Unilever, GE, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pan Am, Scott Paper and others. Sourced from archives housed at the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University.
Literary Manuscripts Berg (Adam Matthew Digital)
Traces the genesis of nineteenth century literary works through the unique manuscripts of their authors, many unavailable elsewhere. Supplemented by rare printed materials, including early editions annotated by the authors.
Literary Print Culture (Adam Matthew Digital)
Includes documents dating from 1554 to the 21st century, detailing the workings of the early book trade, the printing and publishing community, the establishment of legal requirements for copyright provisions and the history of bookbinding
London Low Life (Adam Matthew Digital)
Documents popular culture in 19th and early 20th century London with digital copies of a wide variety of material types including fast literature, posters, playbills, broadsides, penny fiction, cartoons, chapbooks, street cries, tourist guides, and swells’ guides. A series of historic base maps can be explored with a selection of linked data and Tallis Street Views. Essays by subject experts provide context together with an extensive bibliography of secondary sources and dictionaries of London low life and slang. Sourced from the Lilly Library at Indiana University this visually rich collection can be explored by document type, theme, and source collection.
Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present (Cambridge University Press)
Provides biographical and critical accounts of the lives and works of women writers from the British Isles together with contextual materials, timelines, and bibliographies relevant to critical and historical readings. Also includes material on selected non-British and international women, and British and international men, whose writings are relevant to the historical context.
Women in The National Archives (Adam Matthew Digital)
Features a finding aid to women’s studies collections and resources at The National Archives and digital copies of documents related to the campaign for women’s suffrage in Britain (1903-1928), and the colonial territories (1930-1962).