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American History: Primary Sources

This guide highlights American History resources that are available via the Fordham University Libraries.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original records created during the time under study. Because they were present during the experience, they offer an inside first-hand view of a particular event unfiltered by interpretation, criticism, or evaluation. 

Examples include letters, newspapers, interviews, photographs, manuscripts, memoirs, speeches, diaries, news film footage, autobiographies, official records, personal narratives, creative works (poetry, drama, novels, music, art), anecdotes, correspondence, pamphlets, and case studies.

Tips for Finding Primary Sources

Learn about finding, evaluating, and using primary sources through the guide "Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, Evaluating, Using" by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a subset of the American Library Association (ALA). 

Find primary sources in the Library Catalog by searching for the topic and the type of resource you're interested in: 

[Research interest or person] - correspondence or diaries

Civil War - sources
Immigrants - personal narratives
Women's suffrage - diaries
Eleanor Roosevelt - letters

Sources goes with topics; Archives goes with people and organizations. To be safe, try this: [research interest] - sources or archives

(From the book Magic Search: Getting the Best Results from your Catalog and BeyondKornegay, R.S., et al. (2009), Chicago: American Library Association.)

Historic Audio Sources

Recommended Primary Source Resources

Digital Historic Documents

Digital Collections of Early Books & Journals

Digital Collections of Diaries, Letters, etc.

Reference & Instruction Department

Reference & Instruction Department
Fordham University Libraries

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