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Primary Sources

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 paiting of Washington Crossing The Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze was painted in 1851. 

This paiting is both a primary and secondary source depending on what you are researching.

Primary

It is a primary source if you are studying the painter Emanuel Leutze or art and paintings from the late 19th centurary.

Secondary

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. 

 Primary Sources

African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (Accessible Archives)
Includes the complete text of major 19th century African American newspapers such as The Christian Recorder (1861-1902), Freedom's Journal (1827-1829), The North Star (1847-1851), and Frederick Douglass' Paper (1851-1863).
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African American Studies Center Online (Oxford)
The database provides students, scholars and librarians with online access to the finest reference resources in African American studies. At its core, AASC features the new Encyclopedia of African American History: 1619-1895, Black Women in America, the highly acclaimed Africana, a five-volume history of the African and African American experience, and the African American National Biography project (estimated at 8 volumes). In addition to these major reference works, AASC offers other key resources from Oxford's reference program, including the Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature and selected articles from other reference works.
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American Periodicals Series (ProQuest)
Search a selection of periodicals that first began publishing between 1740 and 1900, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children's and women's magazines, and many other historically significant periodicals.
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America’s Historical Newspapers: 1690-1922 (Readex)
A digital collection of early American newspapers from 1690 to 1922, that includes the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1860-1920.
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Black Abolitionist Papers: 1830-1865 (ProQuest)
This collection searches a unique set of primary sources from African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865. Approximately 15,000 articles, documents, correspondence, proceedings, manuscripts, and literary works of almost 300 Black abolitionists show the full range of their activities in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Germany.
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Black Drama, 2nd Edition
Contains the full text of 1,462 plays written from the mid-1800s to the present by more than 233 playwrights from North America, English-speaking Africa, the Caribbean, and other African diaspora countries. Many of the works are rare, hard-to-find, or out of print. More than a quarter of the collection consists of previously unpublished plays by writers such as Langston Hughes, Ed Bullins, Derek Walcott, Willis Richardson, Alice Childress, Amiri Baraka, Zora Neale Hurston, and many others.
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British Periodicals Collection I (ProQuest)
The database consists of more than 160 journals spanning the late 17th through early 20th centuries, and covering a range of topics such as literature, philosophy, history, science, the fine arts and the social sciences. This resource has facsimile page images and searchable full text for nearly 500 British periodicals published.
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Burney Collection Newspapers (Gale)
Explore the early history of the English newspaper. Learn about the English Civil War, the Restoration and 18th century political and cultural developments.“The newspapers, pamphlets, and books gathered by the Reverend Charles Burney (1757-1817) represent the largest and most comprehensive collection of early English news media. The present digital collection, that helps chart the development of the concept of ‘news’ and ‘newspapers’ and the “free press,” totals almost 1 million pages and contains approximately 1,270 titles. Many of the Burney newspapers are well known, but many pamphlets and broadsides also included have remained largely hidden. Newly digitized, all Burney treasures are now fully text-searchable.
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Columbia Granger's World of Poetry
The Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry currently contains 250,000 poems in full text and 450,000 citations, in addition to several important new features, commentaries, bibliographies, notes on form and a glossary of prosodic terms. The poems in full text are the most widely-read in the English language, as well as in Spanish, French, German, and Italian. Included also is poetry in Portuguese, Polish, Yiddish, Welsh, Gaelic, and other Celtic languages, as well as poems in the ancient languages: Anglo-Saxon, Provencal and Latin.
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Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Primary Source Sets
Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Primary Source Sets are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills by exploring topics in history, literature, and culture through primary sources. Drawing online materials from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States, the sets use letters, photographs, posters, oral histories, video clips, sheet music, and more. Each set includes a topic overview, ten to fifteen primary sources, links to related resources, and a teaching guide.
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Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800 (Readex)
Consists of more than 37,000 books, pamphlets and broadsides. It includes information about every aspect of life in 17th- and 18th-century America, from agriculture and auctions through foreign affairs, diplomacy, literature, music, religion, the Revolutionary War, temperance, witchcraft, and just about any other topic imaginable.
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Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819 (Readex)
Covering every aspect of American life during the early decades of the United States, Early American Imprints, Series II (1801-1819) provides full-text access to the 36,000 American books, pamphlets and broadsides published in the first nineteen years of the nineteenth century. Based on the authoritative bibliography by Ralph B. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker and supplemented by thousands of new items.
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Early English Books Online (EEBO)
Early English Books Online (EEBO) contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700. For searchable text of selected titles see Early English Books Online -Text Creation Partnership
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Eighteenth Century Collections Online (Gale)
Access the digital images of every page of 150,000 books published during the 18th Century. With full-text searching of approximately 26 million pages, the product allows researchers new methods of access to critical information in the fields of history, literature, religion, law, fine arts, science and more.
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Historical New York Times: 1851- (ProQuest)
The New York Times is a unique full-image archive that brings you the entire historical run of The New York Times, in-depth coverage of science and politics. It offers complete coverage from 1851 to the present with the exception of the most current three years. Includes classified ads, comics and cartoons, photos, maps, graphics, etc., editorials and commentary.
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Literature Online (Chadwyck-Healey)
A fully searchable library of more than 350,000 works of English and American poetry, drama and prose, 382 full-text literature journals, and other key criticism and reference resources.
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MLA Literary Research Guide
The Literary Research Guide is a selective, annotated guide to reference sources essential to the study of British literature, literatures of the United States, other literatures in English, and related topics. The scope and organization of the content are described in the introduction. To begin working, use one of the tabs above.
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Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester University Press)
A selection of translated and annotated medieval sources published by Manchester University Press. Selected titles are available in print as well as online.
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Nineteenth Century UK Periodicals (Gale)
Access the enormous range of nineteenth-century periodical literature (1800-1900). Of interest to historians and students of nineteenth-century literature and culture, empire, feminism, the history of the book, the creative and performing arts, sport and leisure, science and medicine, the professions, in short, of all aspects of nineteenth-century life that the press encompassed.
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North American Theatre Online (Alexander Street Press)
Includes more than 40,000 pages of important reference sources in electronic format, indexed and searchable along with all the other content. O’Dell’s Annals of the New York Stage, the Oxford University Press Companion series, and Greenwood’s American Theatre Companies series are just a few of the many in-copyright sources. Also, in-depth records cover tens of thousands of plays, including many previously unpublished works by major authors—not only major and known plays, but also partial works, works that have never been performed, and works that were believed lost, providing researchers with unique and never-before-seen information. Related resources include thousands of playbills, posters, photographs, and related theatrical ephemera.
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Past Masters (InteLex)
Contains full-text of scholarly editions of many philosophers, theologians and literary writers: Anselm, Aquinas, Aristotle, Augustine, Austen, Chesterton, Descartes, Dewey, Feuerbach, Fichte, Foucault, Francis of Assisi, Hegel, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Leibniz, Locke, Luther, Marx and Engels, Merleau-Ponty, Newman, Nietzsche, Ockham, Pascal, Pierce, Plato, Poinsot, Royce, Santayana, Schopenhauer, Shelley, Spinoza, Synge, Wittgenstein and Wollestonecraf, as well as collections for British Philosophy 1600-1900, The Continental Rationalists, The Latin Background: 1100-1550, and The Romantic Age.
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Pennsylvania Gazette: 1728-1800 (Accessible Archives)
Full-text transcription and digitized image of the actual newspaper page as it originally appeared.
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Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries
PACSCL includes major archival repositories and the libraries of some of the country's most prestigious universities, museums and learned societies.
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Play Index (EBSCO)
Play Index searches over 30,000 plays written from Antiquity to the present and published from 1949 to the present. Covers a wide range of plays written in or translated into English, including mysteries, pageants, plays in verse, puppet performances, radio and television plays, and classic drama. Search for plays by title, author, subject, style, genre, or cast type.
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Poole's Plus: 19th Century Masterfile (Paratext)
19th Century Masterfile is a vast 'Index of Indexes,' and is the largest resource for historical research before 1930. 19th Century Masterfile brings together over 70 subject indexes to: periodicals, newspapers, books, U.S. Congressional Records, U.S. and U.K. Government Documents, U.S. Patents, image archives, and more.
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Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (EBSCO)
Provides indexing of over three million articles from more than 550 leading magazines, including full coverage of the original print volumes of Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature™. Subject coverage includes arts, business, computers, crafts, dance, drama, education, entertainment, fashion, film & television, food, gardening, health and medicine, home improvement, literature, news and current events, photography, popular and classical music, politics, popular culture, religion, sports and fitness, technology, transportation, travel and more.
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Short Story Index (EBSCO)
Provides a practical way to locate full-text short stories of all genres online. Short story collections and anthologies are indexed and made searchable by author, title, subject, keyword, date, literary technique, and source, or any combination thereof. Coverage is retrospective back to 1984.
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The Times Digital Archive 1785-2010(Gale)
The Times is the "world's newspaper of record" and covers all major international historical events from the French Revolution to the Falkland War. The entire newspaper is captured, with all articles, advertisements and illustrations/photos divided into categories to facilitate searching. It is a digital reproduction, cover to cover, of the paper in PDF files.
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Women Writers Project [1400-1850]
Full-text pre 1850 women's writing in English, or in English translation. Covers various genres and issues.
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Wright American Fiction
This is a collection of 19th century American fiction, as listed in Lyle Wright's bibliography American Fiction, 1851-1875. There are currently 2,887 volumes included (1,763 unedited, 1,124 fully edited and encoded) by 1,456 authors.
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swingo Sarah Wingo
Librarian for English Literature and Theatre
Falvey Library, Villanova University
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova , PA , 19085
Room 223
610-519-5183


Sarah Wingo is available for research consultations, instruction, curricular support & purchase requests.

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Last Modified: 2017-10-18 12:21:46