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Subject Guide ~ History: United States

Primary Sources at Hamilton

primary source, n.
Pronunciation: /ˈpraɪm(ə)ri  sɔəs/

A primary source is one produced by a participant in or witness of the events you are writing about. A primary source allows the historian to see the past through the eyes of direct participants. Some common primary sources are letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches, church records, newspaper articles, and government documents of all kinds. The capacious genre "government records" is probably the single richest trove for the historian and includes everything from criminal court records, to tax lists, to census data, to parliamentary debates, to international treaties—indeed, any records generated by governments. If you're writing about culture, primary sources may include works of art or literature, as well as philosophical tracts or scientific treatises—anything that comes under the broad rubric of culture. Not all primary sources are written. Buildings, monuments, clothes, home furnishings, photographs, religious relics, musical recordings, or oral reminiscences can all be primary sources if you use them as historical clues. The interests of historians are so broad that virtually anything can be a primary source.
From the Hamilton College History Department's Writing a Good History Paper

Use the links below to find primary sources using Burke Library's general collection, its online resources, and interlibrary loan.

For information about the library's own manuscript collections, rare books, and institutional records, visit the Special Collections & Archives page.

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