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Finding Primary Source Materials  

Last Updated: Sep 4, 2013 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

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What is in This Guide?

This is a selective guide to finding primary source materials for historical research. The University Libraries maintain rich collections of primary sources in print, microform, and electronic formats. Additionally, there are hundreds of collections of primary source materials available on the Web, and more are added every day. Because there is no single comprehensive database of primary sources, you may need to explore different strategies for locating resources of interest.

What are primary sources?  They are often referred to as "first hand" accounts or "original" records. They are the evidence historians use to build interpretations of the past. Most primary sources are created at the time an historical event occurred, while others, such as autobiographies, are produced long after the events they describe. Among the many types of materials that may be primary sources are: letters, diaries, speeches, newspaper articles, autobiographies, oral histories, government and organizational records, statistical data, maps, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings, advertisements, and artifacts.

This guide contains the following sections, and focuses on online resources.

  • Search Tools - locate primary sources at UNC, at other libraries, and on the Web.
  • General - collections available electronically through the UNC libraries and on the Web.
  • Newspapers and Periodicals - online access to historical newspapers and magazines.
  • Personal History - electronic collections of letters, diaries and other personal writings.
  • Data & Maps - connect to data sources and online maps.
  • Media - find image collections, audio recording, and streaming media.
  • Government - online access to government and legal sources from the U. S. and elsewhere.
  • Directories - guides to locating digitized primary source documents and collections, including locally.


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    Robert Dalton
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    Tommy Nixon
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    Davis Library Research & Instructional Services
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