HIST 2200: History to 1500

Primary Sources

Primary or Secondary Source?

A primary source is first-hand information created during the time that you are researching. 

A secondary source is second-hand information, often written by an expert who draws on both primary and contextual information.  

Finding Primary Sources

You'll need to use a variety of strategies and do a bit of digging to find primary sources for this project. I've listed a few good strategies below, and you can always come see me for one-on-one assistance.


Encyclopedia articles will often include examples of primary sources. You can find encyclopedia articles in the following places: 

  • Gale Virtual Reference Library is an online collection of encyclopedias you can access through the library. 
  • Print encyclopedias are on the first floor of the library (right outside my office). 
  • Wikipedia also sometimes includes primary sources. Just be sure that you're able to identify where the source came from. If you scroll down to the bottom of a Wikipedia article to the section labeled "External Links," there will sometimes be a link to primary sources on that topic that have been digitized and made available online. 

Library Catalog

In the library we have several books that are collections of primary sources. To find these, do a search for your topic and add the keyword "sources" to your search.

Secondary Sources

The secondary sources (books and articles) you use for your research will likely contain some primary sources.

Online Collections of Primary Sources

Descriptive Questions

What is it?

Who wrote or made it?

When was it written or made?

Where was it written or made?

How was it written or made?


Interpretive Questions

What is the tone of the source?

Who was the intended audience of this source? How might that influence its content?

Why was this source written or made? What is its intended purpose?

What research questions might this source suggest?

Examples of Primary Sources




Eyewitness accounts

Film footage



Newspaper articles

Concert programs


Objects from the time

Oral histories


Poems, art


Musical scores