Primary sources are first-hand accounts, that serve as original evidence documenting a period, event, people, idea or work.
Primary sources can be printed materials like books or newspapers, manuscript and archival materials like diaries and documents, artifacts, and audio/visual materials. Primary materials can be found in analog, digitized, and born-digital forms.
Some examples of primary sources include:
These strategies can be used in the library catalog, Williams WorldCat, and HathiTrust Digital Library.
To search by title, you need to have a known title in mind. Bibliographies can help identify relevant titles. See the Reference Sources portion of the research guide for suggestions, and consult the bibliographies from class readings and the secondary sources you find in your research.
Memoirs, speeches, writings, or correspondence of a person can be found by doing an author search in library catalogs using the name (enter the last name first) of the person. Author searches can also be used for governments, organizations, and corporations.
Usually, library catalog records have at least one subject heading describing the general topic of the item. Subject headings can be subdivided to indicate further topical breakdown, geographical location, time period, or the form of the composition. Some of the subdivisions that indicate the item is a primary source include:
Sources: collections of contemporary documents and writings
Personal Narratives: first-person accounts, memoirs
Biography: includes biography and autobiographies
To search using subject headings in the Williams Libraries catalog, use the Browse Search or Advanced Search.
Using the Advanced Search, you can combine your topic with the subdivisions mentioned above. Choose to search in the subject field to make the searches more precise. (note: "sources" will also bring up reference sources).
Primary sources were written around the same time as an event or during a particular historical time period. To find contemporary writings, you can do searches in library catalogs by subject and limit to the years in question. A word of caution: this search strategy will not find materials that were reprinted at a later date.
Be sure to evaluate the sites you find, particularly who created the site in order to determine biases and what information might be included/excluded.
Some libraries catalog their digitized archival collections in Williams WorldCat.
Note: some items will not be freely available or may just be collection finding aids.