What is a primary source?
Primary sources come in a wide variety of formats, but they all have one thing in common: they are original, unfiltered sources that describe people, places and events.
While museums and archives preserve primary sources in their original form, reproductions are available on a variety of platforms: print books, databases, journals, microform, etc.
Primary Sources in the Library's Collection and Elsewhere
Use the Library's catalog and WorldCat to discover primary sources related to your topic. Scroll down for search tips. Contact your librarian for assistance.
Falvey Library Catalog
The Library's catalog enables patrons to search & browse Falvey Memorial Library’s collection of books, journals, audio/video materials, electronic resources and more.WorldCat (FirstSearch)
Presents a combined catalog of the catalogs of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. WorldCat highlights publications available at Villanova University. Other items can be requested via an inter-library loan request form. WorldCat Step-by-Step
is a self-paced interactive tutorial for students new to this resource.
Provides access to a range of databases with biographical information. Includes census data, vital records, directories, voter lists, immigration records, images, and more. Early English Books Online (Chadwyck-Healy)
Provides access to digital page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473 to 1700. Includes books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and newspapers. For searchable text of selected titles see Early English Books Online -Text Creation Partnership. Eighteenth Century Collections Online (Gale)
Offers full text access to nearly every English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom, alongside thousands of works published in the Americas, between 1701 and 1800. Consists of books, pamphlets, broadsides, and ephemera. Multiple editions of individual works are offered where they add scholarly value or contain important differences. Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800 (Readex)
Features most of the books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in America between 1639 and 1800. Titles were selected based on Charles Evans’s American Bibliography. Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819 (Readex)
Features most of the books, pamphlets, and broadsides published in America from 1801 through 1819. Contains many state papers and government reports. Titles were selected based on Ralph Shaw’s and Richard H. Shoemaker’s American Bibliography. Sabin Americana, 1500-1926 (Gale)
Offers digital access to books, pamphlets, serials, and other sources published worldwide from 1500 to the early 20th century and documenting the history of the Americas. Titles were selected based on Joseph Sabin's Bibliotheca Americana. U.S. Congressional Serial Set: 1817–1994 (Readex)
Provides full text of selected reports, documents, and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives from 1817 through 1994 (15th through 103rd Congresses). Documents of the first 14 U.S. Congresses can be found in the American State Papers collection. American State Papers: 1789-1838 (Readex) American Decades: Primary Sources American Founding Era (Rotunda)
Offers digital access to the authoritative print editions of the papers of major figures of the early republic ranging from John Adams to Andrew Jackson. New content will be added as it becomes available. Making of the Modern World, Part I, 1450-1850 (Gale)
Provides access to digital copies of books, serials, and various other works of economic literature published between 1450 and 1850. Presents critical primary sources on European economic history including economic theory, imperialism, wealth creation, and trade. Most of the titles are in English but works in other European languages are also included. Historic Documents (SAGE)
Offers full text access to a compilation of excerpts from key historic documents. Documents selected range from presidential speeches, international agreements, and Supreme Court decisions to U.S. governmental reports, scientific findings, and cultural discussions. Short introductions provide historical and intellectual context. Includes references to the full documents. Coverage extends back to 1972. Black Abolitionist Papers (ProQuest)
Features newspapers articles, manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, proceedings, and books written by African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865. Gerritsen Collection of Aletta H. Jacobs (ProQuest)
Features digital copies of books, pamphlets and periodicals related to women’s history in general and the movement for women’s rights in particular. Coverage is international and extends from the middle of the 15th century to the middle of the 20th century. FBI Case Files (Ancestry.com)
Features case files from the agency formerly known as the United States Bureau of Investigation, including World War I espionage files, files on German aliens who were politically suspect, and records pertaining to Mexican neutrality. Covers 1908 through 1922. Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (EBSCO)
Provides indexing for articles from general interest and popular magazines. Covers 1890 through 1982. Covers a broad range of popular subjects. Core Documents of U.S. Democracy
A core group of current and historical Government publications to provide American citizens direct online access to the basic Federal Government documents that define our democratic society. Doc Heritage (Pennsylvania State Archives)
Doc Heritage includes images of historical documents, narratives placing them in a regional, state or national context, and, where appropriate, transcriptions of each record as well as helpful links for further research. The records featured in Doc Heritage bear witness to the unique role Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians have played in the history of our nation. Documenting the American South
Documenting the American South (DocSouth) is a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to Southern history, literature, and culture. Eurodocs: Western European Primary Historical Documents
These links connect to Western European (mainly primary) historical documents that are transcribed, reproduced in facsimile, or translated. They shed light on key historical happenings within the respective countries (and within the broadest sense of political, economic, social and cultural history). The order of documents is chronological wherever possible. From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection 1822-1909
From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909 presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics. The materials range from personal accounts and public orations to organizational reports and legislative speeches. Historic Government Publications from World War II National Security Archive
The National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). History and Politics Out Loud
HPOL is a searchable multimedia database documenting and delivering authoritative audio relevant to American history and politics. World History Archives
Documents to support the study of world history from a working-class and non-Eurocentric perspective. World War I Document Archive
The archive is international in focus and intends to present in one location primary documents concerning the Great War. American Notes: Travels in America, 1750-1920
Travels in America, 1750-1920 comprises 253 published narratives by Americans and foreign visitors recounting their travels in the colonies and the United States and their observations and opinions about American peoples, places, and society from about 1750 to 1920. Also included is the thirty-two-volume set of manuscript sources entitled Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, published between 1904 and 1907. Although many of the authors represented in American Notes are not widely known, the collection includes works by major figures such as Matthew Arnold, Fredrika Bremer, William Cullen Bryant, François-René de Chateaubriand, William Cobbett, James Fenimore Cooper, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Sir Charles Lyell, William Lyon Mackenzie, André Michaux, Thomas Nuttall, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The narratives in American Notes therefore range from the unjustly neglected to the justly famous, and from classics of the genre to undiscovered gems. Together, they build a mosaic portrait of a young nation. Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1938
Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress. Born in Slavery was made possible by a major gift from the Citigroup Foundation. A Century of Lawmaking For a New Nation: US Congressional Documents and Debates
Beginning with the Continental Congress in 1774, America's national legislative bodies have kept records of their proceedings. The records of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the United States Congress make up a rich documentary history of the construction of the nation and the development of the federal government and its role in the national life. These documents record American history in the words of those who built our government. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation brings together online the records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress, including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record, 1873-75. American Memory (The Library of Congress)
American Memory is a gateway to the Library of Congress?s vast resources of digitized American historical materials. Comprising more than 9 million items that document U.S. history and culture, American Memory is organized into more than 100 thematic collections based on their original format, their subject matter, or who first created, assembled, or donated them to the Library. 19th Century Documents Project (Furman University)
When completed this collection will include accurate transcriptions of many important and representative primary texts from nineteenth century American history, with special emphasis on those sources that shed light on sectional conflict and transformations in regional identity. Because of our location in South Carolina and the salient role of its natives in the era's history there will also be a number of materials relevant to South Carolina or South Carolinians. American Journeys
American Journeys contains more than 18,000 pages of eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from the sagas of Vikings in Canada in AD1000 to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later. First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920
This compilation of printed texts from the libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill documents the culture of the nineteenth-century American South from the viewpoint of Southerners. It includes the diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives of not only prominent individuals, but also of relatively inaccessible populations: women, African Americans, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans. An award from the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition supported the digitization of 101 titles published during and after the Civil War. Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair 1886-1887
This collection showcases more than 3,800 images of original manuscripts, broadsides, photographs, prints and artifacts relating to the Haymarket Affair. The violent confrontation between Chicago police and labor protesters in 1886 proved to be a pivotal setback in the struggle for American workers' rights. These materials pertain to: the May 4, 1886 meeting and bombing; to the trial, conviction and subsequent appeals of those accused of inciting the bombing; and to the execution of four of the convicted and the later pardon of the remaining defendants. Immigratiton to the United States, 1789-1930
Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930, is a web-based collection of selected historical materials from Harvard's libraries, archives, and museums that documents voluntary immigration to the US from the signing of the Constitution to the onset of the Great Depression. Slaves and the Courts 1740-1860
Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860 contains just over a hundred pamphlets and books (published between 1772 and 1889) concerning the difficult and troubling experiences of African and African-American slaves in the American colonies and the United States. The documents, most from the Law Library and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, comprise an assortment of trials and cases, reports, arguments, accounts, examinations of cases and decisions, proceedings, journals, a letter, and other works of historical importance. The Geography of Slavery in Virginia
The Geography of Slavery in Virginia is a digital collection of advertisements for runaway and captured slaves and servants in 18th- and 19th-century Virginia newspapers. Building on the rich descriptions of individual slaves and servants in the ads, the project offers a personal, geographical and documentary context for the study of slavery in Virginia, from colonial times to the Civil War. Veterans History Project
The primary focus is on first-hand accounts of U.S. Veterans from the following wars: World War I (1914-1920), World War II (1939-1946),Korean War (1950-1955), Vietnam War (1961-1975), Persian Gulf War (1990-1995), Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present). The Veterans History Project relies on volunteers to collect and preserve stories of wartime service. Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation
Beginning with the Continental Congress in 1774, America's national legislative bodies have kept records of their proceedings. The records of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the United States Congress make up a rich documentary history of the construction of the nation and the development of the federal government and its role in the national life. These documents record American history in the words of those who built our government.
Newspapers & Magazines
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. New York Times: 1851- (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
Provides full text access to the complete New York Times archive except for the most current three years. Use Nexis Uni or ABI/INFORM for access to current content. Washington Post Historical: 1877- (ProQuest)
Contains the full text of the Washington Post and its title variations from 1877 until seventeen years ago. More recent Washington Post content is available via Nexis Uni (1977 to the present). 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. Black Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (Accessible Archives)
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). Introduction to Black Historical Newspapers
is a short tutorial about basic features of this resource.
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). Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
Search America's historic newspapers pages from 1860-1922 or use the U.S. Newspaper Directory to find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present. Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. American Periodicals (ProQuest)
Provides access to the full text of American magazines and journals published from the colonial period to the early 20th century. Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (EBSCO)
Provides indexing for articles from general interest and popular magazines. Covers 1890 through 1982. Covers a broad range of popular subjects. OpinionArchives
Features electronic archives for selected journals of opinion, including Harper's Magazine, The New Republic, The Nation, Commentary, NACLA, Commonweal, American Spectator, National Review and The New York Review of Books. Civil War: A Newspaper Perspective (Accessible Archives)
Provides access to Northern and Southern newspapers published during the American Civil War. Includes news coverage, eyewitness accounts, official reports of battles, editorials, advertisements, biographies, battlefield maps, and illustrations. Pennsylvania Gazette: 1728-1800 (Accessible Archives)
Full-text transcription and digitized image of the actual newspaper page as it originally appeared. Virginia Gazette
The Virginia Gazette was published weekly in Williamsburg from 1736-1780. The news covered all Virginia and included some information for other colonies, Scotland, England etc. Not all the issues survived, and some have surfaced since they were first reproduced on microfilm in the mid-twentieth century that is the basis for the digital version. Philadelphia Inquirer, 1981- (NewsBank)
Provides full text access to articles published since 1981. Does not include ads, calendar listings, horoscopes, sports statistics, stock tables, weather forecasts, and puzzles. Lexis Nexis Academic
Now Nexis Uni. Provides full-text access to national and international newspaper and magazine articles and news transcripts, business, company, and industry information in the U.S. and abroad, and legal documents, including U.S. Federal and State court cases, and law reviews. Coverage varies. Times (London) Digital Archive, 1785-2012 (Gale)
LexisNexis online services and the materials contained therein are under copyright by LexisNexis. All rights reserved. No part of these Services may be used except for research purposes, and the Services may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the LexisNexis Academic Library Solutions. Materials retrieved from the Services may not be duplicated in hard copy or machine-readable form without the prior written authorization of LexisNexis Academic & Library Solutions, except that limited reproduction of output is permitted solely for individual use by the Authorized User or internal distribution within the Subscribing Institution in accordance with the terms of this Agreement unless further limited or prohibited by the Copyright Act of 1976. Under no circumstances may the Materials or any portion thereof be used to create derivative products or services.
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. Burney Collection Newspapers: Seventeenth-Eighteenth Century (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. 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. 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. Current Digest of the Russian Press
Each week the Current Digest presents a selection of Russian-language press materials, carefully translated into English. The Current Digest is a comprehensive retrospective digest of the news presented to the Soviet and Russian public for more than a half-century, from the beginnings of the Cold War through the emergence of Russia in the new balance of power. Founded in 1949, the Current Digest was first published as The Current Digest of the Soviet Press (1949-1991), followed by The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press (1992-2010), and now The Current Digest of the Russian Press. Pennsylvania Newspaper Record: Delaware County (Accessible Archives)
Offers full text access to a small collection of 19th century Delaware County newspapers.
Types of primary sources
This is a list of common types of primary sources. Use these descriptors as a starting point to query the catalog for primary sources related to your topic.
Diaries, journals and excerpts of diaries are not just found in archives and attics, but also published in books. The Library has diaries of famous people, diaries from classes of people such as women or soldiers and diaries from different geographic areas. With some luck you can also find English translations of diaries originally written in a different language.
subject search: diaries AND "Louis Philippe"
subject search: diaries AND women
subject search: diaries AND Germany
Newspapers and magazines
The Library has access to a large number of newspapers either in digital of microform format. Check the catalog for newspapers of interest to your topic and verify whether the Library has access to the relevant time period or browse the list of selected digitally available newspaper titles and collections is available above. You may also be able to request a month or two of a newspaper on microfilm through interlibrary loan.
subject search: Ireland AND newspapers
Letters are described in the Library of Congress subject thesaurus with the term "correspondence." Find letters published in books with the help of the online catalog. Include the names of the correspondents in your search query or search by social status and/or occupation.
subject search: lawyers AND "united states" AND correspondence
subject search: soldiers AND correspondence
subject search: Gonne AND Maude AND correspondence
Please note that the Library of Congress subheading -autobiographies is used exclusively for theoretical works about autobiographies. An author search is generally the best way to find published autobiographies. Biographical dictionaries will also identify published autobiographies. Try words such as memoir as part of a keyword search and/or personal narratives as part of a subject search.
author search: Frederick AND Douglass
keyword search: memoirs AND politicians
subject search: "personal narratives" AND Vietnam
Personal narratives is a catch-all phrase for memoirs and diaries in the Library of Congress subject heading scheme.
subject search: "personal narratives" AND Holocaust
subject search: "personal narratives" AND prisoners
Transcripts of famous speeches.
subject search: speeches AND Martin AND Luther AND King
Many travel narratives have been penned with future publication in mind and are hence widely available. Travel narratives may also consist of excerpts from letters and diaries. Include the designated Library of Congress subheading for travel narratives, which is "description and travel" into your search query. Note the difference in the number of results when using "description and travel" versus "travel narratives":
subject search: Russia AND "description and travel"
keyword search: "travel narratives" AND russia
"Sources" is a commonly used Library of Congress subject heading to describe all kinds of primary sources.
subject search: sources AND "cold war"
subject search: sources AND suffrage
Research based on manuscripts can be time-consuming and expensive if the manuscripts in question are only available in distant archives. Today, an ever increasing number of manuscripts can be found online in digital form. Many libraries and archives have digitized their rare materials to make them more accessible. Examples include the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Villanova's own digital library. Manuscripts are sometimes also available as facsimile editions in ordinary library books. The catalog records of such published reprints of manuscripts often include the subject "early works to 1800." Below are some suggestions on how to find manuscripts in the catalog.
subject search: "manuscripts medieval"
subject search: manuscripts AND spain
subject search: "illumination of books and manuscripts"
Early works to 1800
A Library of Congress subject classification catch-all for books written prior to 1800. Note that the catalog record may show a much more recent publication date, since these books are generally only available as reprints outside of archives.
subject search: Virginia AND "early works to 1800"
subject search: reformation AND "early works to 1800"
Other subjects for primary sources in the Library of Congress subject thesaurus include interviews, suveys, maps, pamphlets and treaties.
Provides access to a range of databases with biographical information. Includes census data, vital records, directories, voter lists, immigration records, images, and more.Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970
A compendium of statistics from over 1000 sources last updated in 1975 and has been expanded to include over 37,000 data series. Topics ranging from migration and health to crime and the Confederate States of America are each placed in historical context by a recognized expert in the field. The fully searchable and downloadable edition will permit users to graph individual tables and create customized tables and spreadsheets reflecting their own areas of interest.United States Historical Census Data Browser
Historical statistical data derived from the U.S. Census of Population and Housing.Statistical Abstract of the United States
Site provides access to current 2012 PDF and past editions. Includes everything from government spending to the environment to communications. It is a most comprehensive one-volume reference source on the Nation's economic and social condition.