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Tutt Library Research Guides


HY242 Recent U.S. History: 1943-1973: About Primary Sources

Domestic politics and political realignments from Truman to Nixon: McCarthyism and the beginnings of the Cold War; covert action and direct intervention in US foreign policy; Civil Rights, Black Power, feminism, and other topics...

Google Scholar

Google Scholar can be used to find primary sources. Click on the arrow to the right of the search box to open the Advanced Scholar Search window.

Learn More About Primary Sources

Primary Sources at Yale defines and explains the importance of primary sources along with a series of questions for evaluating documents.

The National History Day Research Roadmap provides a good discussion about the definition and use of primary sources.

Evaluating Primary Sources

Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages from Cornell University offers an excellent guide for evaluating primary sources. 

U.S. History Primary Sources

National History Day Recommended Resources


Database Browsing

Many primary source databases have browsing options:

  • Genre
  • Subject
  • Author
  • Time period
  • Places
  • Historical events
  • Personal events
  • Type of collection
  • Place of publication
  • Section of a newspaper

What is a Primary Source?

This documentary use of film and written/audio accounts demonstrates various kinds of primary and secondary sources

KNOW Your Sources...

Primary Sources

A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment. The purpose of primary sources is to capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.

Examples of primary sources include documents, artifacts, historic sites, songs, or other written and tangible items created during the historical period you are studying.

Secondary Sources

A secondary source is a source that was not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era. Secondary sources are usually created by historians, but based on the historian's reading of primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written decades, if not centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue. The purpose of a secondary source is to help build the story of your research from multiple perspectives and to give your research historical context.

An example of a secondary source is Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson, published in 1988. They are a great starting point in helping you see the big picture. Understanding the context of your topic will help you make sense of the primary sources that you find.

The primary and secondary sources McPherson used are listed in the bibliography. Another researcher might consult these same primary sources and reach a different conclusion.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are based on a collection of primary and secondary sources and may or may not be written by an expert. Tertiary sources should never appear in your bibliography but are only used as exploratory sources, to give you ideas about what to research. Wikipedia is not a reliable source and should not be utilized or appear in your bibliography.

Examples are dictionaries, encyclopedias, fact books, and guidebooks.

Content © 2009 National History Day

"Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You..."

On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office and delivered one of the most famous inaugural addresses in U.S. history with the line "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

Select U.S. Archives

More About Primary Sources

World War I Posters
Colorado College Tutt Library Special Collections

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Artifacts
  • Autobiographies
  • Capitivity Narratives
  • Correspondence
  • Court proceedings
  • Diaries
  • Government records
  • Letters
  • Magazines
  • Maps
  • Memoirs
  • Newspapers
  • Oral Histories
  • Pamphlets
  • Papers
  • Personal Narratives
  • Photographs
  • Records
  • Songs
  • Speeches

    Citing Primary Sources

    The following sites offer guides to citing primary sources in the Chicago style:

    Library of Congress

    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

    Citation at a Glance: Primary Source from a Web Site (Diana Hacker)

    Milestone Documents in American History

    Digitized E-books

    These websites contain millions of digitized books, some of which may be primary sources or English translations of sources. There is some overlap between the websites but each one has unique content.

    Tutt Library, Colorado College      Research Help Desk: 719-389-6662, Texting: 719-387-5441, E-mail: