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.
Newspaper databases available through the library.
When using newspaper databases:
- Look carefully at their descriptions to help you identify the dates/years that are covered.
- When searching in the databases it helps to specify date ranges, especially if you are searching a historical newspaper (Located under search boxes)
- When searching historical newspapers be aware of the language you are using. The algorithms search for words in the newspaper so using modern terminology for something from the 1800s may not work.
When using newspaper databases: 1)Look carefully at their descriptions to help you identify coverage date ranges. 2) When searching in the databases it helps to specify date ranges, especially if you are searching a historical newspaper. 3) When searching historical newspapers be aware of the language you are using. The algorithms search for words in the newspaper so using modern terminology for something from the 1800s may not work. African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (Accessible Archives)
Provides access to the major 19th century African American newspapers including The Christian Recorder (1861-1902), Freedom's Journal (1827-1829), The North Star (1847-1851), and Frederick Douglass' Paper (1851-1863). America's Historical Newspapers (Readex)
Includes full text of selected early American newspapers published between 1690 and 1922. Villanova University has access to series 1 through 5 and 7. American Periodicals (ProQuest)
Provides access to the full text of American magazines and journals published from the colonial period to the early 20th century. Black Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
Offers access to the major African American newspapers of the 20th century: the Atlanta Daily World (1931-2003), the Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988), the Cleveland Call & Post (1934-1991), the Chicago Defender (1910-1975), the Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), the New York Amsterdam News (1922-1993), the Norfolk Journal & Guide (1921-2003), the Philadelphia Tribune (1912-2001), and the Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002). British Library Newspapers (Gale)
Includes over 240 newspaper titles from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and spans the years of 1732 to 1950 over six distinct collections. Illuminating diverse and distinct regional attitudes, cultures, and vernaculars, providing an alternative viewpoint to the London-centric national press. British Periodicals (ProQuest)
Provides access to British periodicals published from the 17th through the early 20th century with the majority of content from the 19th century. Covers a broad range of topics. 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. Irish Times (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
Presents a complete archive of the Irish Times back to 1859 (except for the most recent two years) and the Weekly Irish Times (1876-1958). 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. 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. 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. Nineteenth Century UK Periodicals (Gale)
Features digital access to a selection of 19th century British magazines on women, children, leisure and sport, humor, anthropology, travel, missionaries, and colonies. The Come Out Archive
The first periodical published by the gay and lesbian community after the Stonewall riots in June, 1969. This archive contains firsthand accounts and photographs of marches and rallies, interviews with prominent members of the community, articles related to other international struggles, and even poems. The publication also includes transsexual and transvestite liberation issues. Times (London) Digital Archive, 1785-2019 (Gale)
Provides a fully searchable facsimile of the Times of London. The Times is the world's oldest daily newspaper in continuous publication. Washington Post Historical: 1877- (ProQuest)
Contains the full text of the Washington Post and its title variations from 1877 until seventeen years ago.