Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or discovery. Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs). Primary sources include autobiographies; letters; emails; diaries; speeches; interviews; laws; treaties; raw data that has been collected; works of literature, art, or music; and newspaper accounts of events by an eye-witness. You should know the name or people or organizations, the dates, and the places involved in your research topic before attempting to find primary sources.
Secondary sources are summaries, interpretations, or analyses of another's work. Determining whether a work is a primary or secondary source is not clear cut. An author's recent work of fiction may be a primary source to a researcher studying the writing style of that author. The author's notes and letters used in the writing of that work may instead be a primary source to another researcher. Bibliographies of secondary sources can provide many primary sources.
Tertiary sources contain information which is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources include almanacs, chronologies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, directories, fact books, guidebooks, indexes, abstracts, manuals, and textbooks.
Special Collections in Newman Library holds many primary source documents on the history of Virginia Tech, the Civil War, Appalachian and local history, culinary history, women in architecture, and other fields. See also our Manuscripts guide.
Because the definition of primary sources is somewhat fluid and can vary among disciplines, consult your instructor for guidelines on what to consider a primary source when researching an assignment.
Use the Subject search screen and search the headings listed below for books containing primary source material.
Use the advanced search screen and include a limit by Subject for the subheadings listed below. Include your research topic for narrower results.
Databases that contain full text of primary sources are listed below. (Many other databases will contain citations or summaries of primary sources which may then be located using Addison or another source.) Be aware of the coverage dates for each listed database and choose databases that index records contemporary to your event or person.
Many general interest databases will contain citations to or full text of primary sources. While journal articles are not always considered primary sources, their bibliographies can contain citations to such sources.
Primary sources can be found (or at least cited) in subject specific databases found through the Subject Guides. Scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles are sometimes considered primary sources and many databases provide means to limit to peer reviewed articles. Bibliographies can list primary sources and listings should be studies carefully.
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