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History: Research Basics: Primary Sources

Strategy for Finding Primary Sources

  • Check  the bibliography in a recent secondary work on the subject you are researching. Where did the author get their materials?
  • Can you identify an organizations involved in the event you are studying? See if they have an archive.
  • Search Archive Grid
  • Contact libraries about printed subject guides
  • Ask A Librarian to help!

Marshall University Special Collections


Located in Morrow Library on the 2nd Floor

Department contains:

  • local and regional manuscript collections (diaries, business records, photographs, etc)
  • Marshall University archives (yearbooks, Parthenons, president's papers, etc)
  • Rosanna A. Blake Library of Confederate History
  • Dr. Charles A. Hoffman Library of the History of the Medical Sciences
  • and much more


Online Database:

Search for materials not listed in the online search database here:

Primary vs Secondary Sources Video

Primary vs Secondary Sources



Primary Sources

Primary sources are records of events created when the event occurred such as:

• letters • journals
• diaries • manuscripts
• newspapers • interviews
• photographs • oral histories
• memoirs • government documents
• audio recordings • video recordings
• artwork • statistics/data
• artifacts/ephemera • court records







Sometimes primary sources reflect the events after they have occurred such as in the case of oral histories or memoirs. 

These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with secondary sources (previous interpretations) they provide the resources necessary for historical research.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources offer analysis and interpretations of primary sources. They might use primary sources to persuade a reader to hold a certain opinion. 

  • encyclopedias
  • dictionaries
  • textbooks
  • published books about a subject
  • journal articles


Find Primary Sources on the Web

Looking for digital primary sources? See the following guide for help!

Contact Me!

Profile Photo
Lori Thompson
Special Collections Department
James E. Morrow Library Rm 211
Subjects: History