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Maine: A Community and Environmental History, Hist 2607/ENVS 2447: Primary Sources

Primary Sources in History


"Primary sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or witnesses." Secondary sources, on the other hand, "comment on and interpret primary sources".*

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, letters, interviews, oral histories, personal narratives
  • Contemporaneous newspapers, magazines, and journals
  • Manuscripts, archival materials
  • Vital records
  • Government documents
  • Government records
  • Laws, cases, transcripts, minutes, hearings
  • Maps
  • Statistical data, including census data
  • Photographs, films, film scripts
  • Music, sound recordings, musical scores
  • Research data
  • Art and graphics
  • Realia, e.g. tools, needlework, etc.

*Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 4th ed. (Boston: Bedford, 2004), pp. 5-6.

See Primary Sources in American History for details on primary sources and how to find them.

Find Libraries

American library directory; a classified list of libraries in the United States and Canada, with personnel and statistical data
Main Reference Z731.A53
Organized by state/province then by city and library name. Includes academic, public, government, and specialized libraries. Included are over 27,100 libraries in the U.S. and 3249 in Canada. Best Bet
Included are 184,328 libraries in 175 different countries; 143,322 of those are in the U.S. Also includes a directory of Public Libraries in the United States, United States Presidential Libraries, and Public Libraries in the United Kingdom.

Social Media Directory of Academic Libraries
"The Directory includes active links to social media accounts of academic libraries across the globe and includes a multitude of platforms. The site also provides contact information for each social media manager for every library in the directory. All of the links and contact information are presented in tables which are sort-able and include filters to limit by Country and State."

Find Archival Materials

To find "collections of documents or historical records, including notes, correspondence, minutes, photographs, legal papers, etc., pertaining to those persons or organizations", search Compass or WorldCat (a national database of library catalog records) for a name of person, family, or corporate body; class of persons, ethnic group, type of corporate body, type of educational institution, or military service and the word "archives", Best Bet e.g.

Einstein AND archives
presidents AND archives

To find "collections of source materials of all types", search Compass or WorldCat (a national database of library catalog records) for a historical topic or system of law and the word "sources", Best Bet e.g.

antisemitism AND sources
"Soviet Union" AND sources

ArchiveGrid Best Bet
includes collection descriptions from WorldCat bibliographic records and from finding aids harvested from ArchiveGrid contributors' websites as well as a list of archives.

Search OCLC WorldCat (Manuscript materials) is a front-end for searching archival and manuscript collections in WorldCat.

National union catalog of manuscript collections (NUCMC) (in print and online via HathiTrust). The items in NUCMC have not all been entered into WorldCat.

Maine Historical Societies / Historical Records Repositories. Maintained by the Maine State Archives.

Directory of historical organizations in the United States and Canada Best Bet
Main Ref E172 .D5 15th 2002
Although dated, it is still useful for finding historical societies.

Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research, Society of American Archivists

Try to use Google to search for a historical society in a particular city or town, county, or state.

Google search on something like this:
[YOUR TOPIC] AND ("digital archive" OR "digital library" OR "digital collection" OR "digital repository" OR "virtual archive" OR "virtual library" OR "virtual collection" OR "online archive" OR "online library" OR "online collection") Best Bet
(Source: Search string suggested by Archive Discovery: A How-To Guide, Sam Houston State University.)

Please consult with a research librarian about how to find other primary sources.