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Finding Primary Resources

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Reference Desk
Kraemer Family Library

Finding Primary Resources

What is a Primary Resource

Primary resources are records created at the time an event occurred or later in the form of a memoir or an oral history. Primary sources allow researchers to get about as close to the truth as possible when researching an historical event or time period. Primary resources can also be creative works such as a novel, a play, a work of art, or original research. Primary sources include:

  • Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts and other papers that are written to describe events as the author experienced or observed them.
  • Memoirs and autobiographies.
  • Records of organizations or government agencies.
  • Published materials written at the time of an event by observers, journalists, or participants.
  • Photographs, audio recordings, videos and films which document what happened.
  • Artifacts such as furniture, toys, clothing or other physical objects used during the time period or event.
  • Opinion polls which document a mentality or set of attitudes or popular understanding about an event or a time period

Online Library Catalogs

Kraemer Library Catalog
Primary resources may be found in their original format or they may have been reproduced at a later date on microfilm, in another book, or in an audio or video format. Use the Online Catalog for access to these types of materials at Kraemer Family Library.

If Kraemer Family Library does not own what you are looking for you should also check Prospector: the Colorado Unified Catalog. It contains holdings information for over 20 major libraries in the state of Colorado. You may request items from these catalogs if they are not held at UCCS. Be aware that some materials in Prospector do not circulate.

WorldCat is an online catalog that contains library holdings around the world. You may be able to identify and request an interlibrary loan for materials on your topic through the WorldCat database. To access WorldCat, start at the Kraemer Family Library Home Page and click on the link for Other Library Catalogs. Next select the link for WorldCat.

In order to find primary resources it is helpful to know the Library of Congress Subject Heading is for your topic. Subject headings are not always intuitive. For example:

  • the subject heading for World War II is: World War 1939-1945
  • the subject heading for the Vietnam War is: Vietnamese Conflict

You can look in the four red volumes entitled Library of Congress Subject Headings near the Reference Desk to determine the subject heading.

Alternatively, you can conduct a keyword search in the online catalog. A word search will look in the catalog for words in titles, subject headings, notes, and tables of contents. When you find an item in the catalog that is about your topic, you will see that the record for that item contains the subject heading under which it is cataloged. To locate primary material on your topic, you can pair the keywords with words like:

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • early works to 1800
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives

Periodical and Newspaper Indexes

To find articles written during the time period of your topic you must search in periodical and newspapers indexes. Before selecting an index, look carefully at its description. Make sure that the index covers the time period that you are interested in as well as the academic discipline that your topic falls within. Remember that many electronic databases cover only material that has been published in the previous ten to twenty five years. Here are a few indexes and databases that might be useful for historical research.

New York Times Index REF AI21 N44 1851-present
Indexes from 1971 to the present are shelved in Reference. Earlier additions are in the Bound Periodicals on the 2nd floor of El Pomar Center. The full run of the newspaper is on microfilm also located in the Bound Periodicals area. This is an excellent index for primary resources such as speeches, interviews, and eyewitness accounts.

Note: If you have a Pike Peak Library District Card you may access the New York Times from 1851 to the present electronically from the PPLD web site.

Readers Guide to Periodical Literature REF AI3 R28 1900- present.

International Index to Periodicals (1906 -1965) PERIODICALS AI3 R282

Nineteenth Century Readers Guide (1890 -1899) REF AI3 R47

Colorado's Historic Newspaper Collection This database will include full text indexing of articles, graphics, letters to the editor, and advertising for 44 of Colorado historical newspapers covering the dates from 1859 to 1880.

HarpWeek- the Civil War Era 1857-1865
This full-text weekly newspaper includes editorials, news stories, illustrations, cartoons, and even advertisements that shaped and reflected public opinion during the civil war years.

Lexis-Nexis Academic (online, coverage varies)
Lexis-Nexis is an excellent database for searching newspapers if your research covers a topic or event that occurred within the last twenty years. Many periodicals are also covered. Complete full-text coverage.

Google News Archives
This database is an historical archive of full-page newspaper images that you can search for unique coverage of past events. The archive is created from newspaper collections from many countries on microfilm, preserving the original format of the paper, but saving you hours, even days, of research time.

Periodical databases containing secondary sources that may lead to primary resources:

Full-text of journal literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences including many titles in the history discipline. Coverage includes the entirety of each journal with the exception of the current three to five years.

Academic Search Premier* EBSCOhost years vary-
Provides full text for more than 3,430 scholarly publications covering academic areas of study including social sciences, humanities, education, computer sciences, engineering, language and linguistics, arts & literature, medical sciences, and ethnic studies. This database is updated on a daily basis.

America: History and Life EBSCOhost
A comprehensive bibliographic database on the history of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present, the database comprises almost 400,000 bibliographic entries. No full-text.

Reference Books Containing or Citing Primary Resources

Annals of America REF E173 A793 1976
An excellent source of documentary history, the Annals contain almost every kind of American writing that reflect American life and thought. Writings include laws, speeches, decisions from all levels of government officials, private papers, diaries, letters, songs, poems, memoirs and journals.

Checklist of American Imprints REF Z1215 C44
A list of works written between 1830 and 1841 on American life.

Documents of American History REF E173 D59 1988
Contains official and quasi-official records and documents of American history including speeches, court cases, treaties, laws, debates, party platforms and more.

Historic Documents REF E839.5 H57
Annual publication which compiles official documents of the United States that are considered to be of historic value. Included are speeches, government reports, treaties, court decisions, presidential statements, and special studies.

Library of American Civilization Core Collection Indexes REF Z1236.L5
The Library of American Civilization Core Collection chronicles the history of the United States from a firsthand point-of-view. Included in this collection are biographies, fiction, letters, texts of public addresses, essays, guide books and countless other topics regarding life in America from colonial times up to World War I. This fascinating collection is an ideal source for those needing original sources for their research. The print index to the collection is in the Reference Department. The Library of American Civilization collection is kept in ultrafiche format which is a reduced-size version of microfiche. The ultrafiche is located in the Microfilms Room. To view the fiche you must ask for a special lens at the Circulation Desk.

Primary Resources on the Web

Primary documents once available only in print and microfilm collections are available in a digitized format on the World Wide Web from free websites or through subscription services. As with all information on the Web, users must evaluate the authenticity of these documents. Educational and government resources are often more reliable than personal websites. For more information about selecting primary source web sites, go to Using Primary Resources on the Web. Below are some examples of reputable major collections of primary resources, subject directories, and search engines that will help you find primary resource material.

Major Collections and Subject Directories

American Memory
American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.

Avalon Project
The Avalon Project, hosted by the Yale Law School containing digitized primary resource material relevant to the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government.

Making of America
Making of America is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. It is hosted by the University of Michigan and made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Western European historical documents.

National Archives and Records Administration
NARA includes the major documents of our government, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights, as well as the 100 milestone documents of American history.

National Security Archives
A library and archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

History Matters
History Matters contains more than 800 reviewed and annotated web site in American History.

History Guide
History Guide is a subject gateway to scholarly relevant websites in history.