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National History Day: Primary Sources

Research tips and resources recommended for young scholars participating in National History Day.

What Are Primary Resources?

Ask yourself: Whose eyes am I seeing this through?

"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."

-- Entering the Contest. National History Day. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

"Primary sources may include but are not limited to:

letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, maps, speeches, interviews, documents produced by government agencies, photographs, audio or video recordings, born-digital items (e.g. emails), research data, and objects or artifacts (such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons)."

-- Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, Evaluating, Using. ALA Reference and User Services Association, 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

Library of American Civilization

Calvin T. Ryan Library holds thousands of microfiche from the Library of American Civilization (LAC) and Library of English Literature (LEL) collections.  These provide a wealth of primary source material for researchers. Some LAC and LEL contents are now freely available through Google Books. 

Click on the PDF link below for instructions on how to best search and access these primary source collections.

Searching the Catalog for Primary Sources

Primary source material can be found throughout the print and microform collections of the Calvin T. Ryan Library.  Try searching on your topic and adding one of these keywords:

  • correspondence
  • narratives
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • letters

Example:  Ulysses Grant letters


Online Collections of Primary Source Material

Subject Guide

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Laurinda Weisse
Archives and Special Collections
Calvin T. Ryan Library