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.
Newspapers & Periodicals
Digital Transgender Archive (College of the Holy Cross)
Features direct access and links to primary source materials from over thirty institutions including the GLBT Historical Society, the NYC Trans Oral History Project, and numerous university archives.
Ethnic NewsWatch (ProQuest)
Offers access to the full text of articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals of the ethnic, minority, and native press. While most of the content is in English, some content in non-English languages is included. Coverage for most newspapers and magazines goes back to the early 1990s, but earlier content is also available.
Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
Offers full text access to the archives of a selection of newspapers available on the ProQuest platform: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the major African American newspapers of the 20th century, including the Chicago Defender. Coverage varies.
LGBT Magazine Archive (ProQuest)
Provides full text access to the most influential LGBT+ news resources including The Advocate (full coverage from its inception in 1967), The Pink Paper, Just for Us, The Albatross, and the notable UK publications Gay News and Gay Times.
New York Times (NYTimes.com) Access Instructions
Offers access to all sections of the NYTimes.com website without monthly limits. Coverage from 1851 to present, with limited availability of articles from 1923-1980. For full text access to all NYT content except the most recent five years, use ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Subscription courtesy of the Provost's Office and Falvey Memorial Library.
New York Times: 1851- (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
Provides full text access to the complete New York Times archive except for the most recent five years. Use NYTimes.com, Nexis Uni, or ABI/INFORM for access to current content.
Times (London) Digital Archive, 1785-2012 (Gale)
Provides a fully searchable facsimile of the Times of London from its inception through about five years ago. The Times is the world's oldest daily newspaper in continuous publication.
DATABASES FOR PRIMARY SOURCES
A long-term research project devoted to early modern women's writing and electronic text encoding. Our goal is to bring texts by pre-Victorian women writers out of the archive and make them accessible to a wide audience of teachers, students, scholars, and the general reader. We support research on women's writing, text encoding, and the role of electronic texts in teaching and scholarship.
Defining Gender (Adam Matthew Digital) Tutorial
Offers documents including diaries, periodicals, letters, pamphlets, account books, commonplace books, college records and exam books, government papers, and ephemera that cast a light on gender, leisure, and consumer culture in the UK from 1400 through the early 20th century. Contents fall into five main thematic areas: Conduct and Politeness; Domesticity and the Family; Consumption and Leisure; Education and Sensibility; and The Body. Includes contextual essays and biographies of many of the authors. Sourced from the originals in a variety of British libraries and archives.
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.
Gender Studies Database (EBSCO)
Indexes academic journals and popular magazines, books, conference proceedings, dissertations and newspapers in many disciplines on topics relevant to gender studies. Includes abstracts for most citations. Coverage goes back to the early seventies.
Indexes scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, books, conference proceedings, dissertations, and reports in many disciplines on topics relevant to gender studies. Provides a historical perspective on the evolution of the women's movement and changes in gender roles. Includes perspectives typically not represented in the mainstream media. Includes abstracts and full-text for most citations. Coverage extends back to 1970.
LGBT Thought and Culture (Alexander Street Press)
Provides coverage of the essential works and archival documents of the global LGBTQ+ movement. Coverage is from the late 19th century to the present and includes archival content in the form of text, letters, speeches, interviews, and ephemera.
That's So Gay: Outing Early America
This website was originally an exhibit through The Library Company of Philadelphia and has now become a website using materials from The Library Company of Philadelphia exploring the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in American society.
Women Writers Online (Northeastern University - Women Writers Project)
Offers a full text collection of works in English by pre-Victorian women writers. Covers a variety of genres and topics. All texts were originally published between 1526 and 1850.