Skip to Main Content

Guide to Primary Sources: Home

This is a guide to primary sources at Kalamazoo College - what they are and how to find them.

Primary Source Databases from Your Library

Primary Sources

About Primary Sources

Primary sources are context dependent. That is, material is a primary source depending on how you use it.

Not every primary source will be available online or in digital form. Many sources are still available only in print, microform, or archival format.

Not every primary source will available in English. Keep this in mind especially when you are working on a world history topic.

Not every primary source is lendable through Interlibrary Loan. While many sources (like periodicals on microfilm) are available for lending via Interlibrary, most Special Collections libraries will not lend their materials.

This guide is NOT a comprehensive list of all existing primary sources. You will likely need to do some searching beyond this guide to find primary resources related to your specific topic.

What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence of a topic. They are the documents closest to the topic being explored and are often created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events being documented. Sometimes they were created at the time events were occurring, but they can also be recorded later (like memoirs or oral histories). 

In contrast, secondary materials interpret primary materials (such as textbooks, articles in journals or magazines, histories, criticisms, commentaries, and encyclopedias).

Some types of primary sources:

  • memoirs (e.g. the Diary of Anne Frank)
  • government documents (e.g. the Constitution)
  • letters
  • pamphlets
  • speeches
  • photographs
  • maps
  • artifacts
  • audio and video recordings
  • oral histories
  • postcards
  • posters
  • music
  • newspaper articles from the time being explored

Helpful guides from other libraries

Research Help!

Meet with a Librarian!

Kelly Frost, LibrarianRobin Rank, LibrarianAngela Bates Librarian

We're happy to discuss your research needs. Schedule an appointment with us.

Research Rescue!