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Find Primary Sources

Types of Primary Sources

Primary sources may be in their original format or may have been reproduced, for example as a book, microfilm collection, video, or on the Internet. All of these formats except Internet sources can be found by searching library catalogs (see search strategies below).

Before you start searching it may be useful to find some background information on your topic.

Type of Primary Source   Search Strategy
page of convention pamphlet, 1848
1848 pamphlet
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Books from the time period you're writing about
  • Search the Five College Library Catalog by subject or keyword
  • You may also search by author if you have a specific person or organization in mind
  • Limit by publication date (on the advanced search screen) for a more precise search
  • But, use publication dates with caution! You’ll lose primary source material published as a reprint or at a later date
page from desk diary of Margaret Sanger, 1937Page from desk diary of Margaret Sanger, 1937
[click image to enlarge]
Published memoirs, letters, interviews, autobiographies, diaries – and manuscript collections
  • If you have a specific person in mind, search the Five College Library Catalog by author
  • If you do not have a specific person in mind, search the Five College Library Catalog using subject keyword and add one of the subheadings below:
    • correspondence
    • diaries
    • interviews
    • personal narrative
    • sources
    • Example: subject keywords: japanese americans interview
  • You may also string these subheadings together in a keyword search: freedmen and (correspondence or diaries or interviews or personal narratives or sources)
cover of Ms. Magazine, July 1972
Cover of Ms Magazine, July 1972
[click image to enlarge]
Magazine, journal, or newspaper article from the time period you're writing about
  • Use one of the library’s many article databases (which one you use will depend on the time period and geographic area of interest)
  • In particular, try some of the databases on the Magazines, Journals, Newspapers tab or Books & More page of this guide.
  • Note that Smith also has many 18th, 19th, and 20th century magazines in print
  • Ask Us for suggestions on these and additional sources
House Report 60-783 to establish a Women's Bureau
House Report on Women's Bureau
[click image to enlarge]
Records of government agencies


Thank you, UC Berkeley! We would like to thank the UC Berkeley libraries for allowing us to use and adapt their excellent guide, Library Research: Finding Primary Sources, on which this page is based.

More Search Advice

Using Primary Sources on the Web (Reference & User Services Association, American Library Association) - advice on finding and evaluating primary sources on the Internet.

Five College Primary Source Research Guide - information about searching and visiting archival collections.

OAIster - search for digitized collections on the Internet.

Journal Locator - search by journal, magazine, or newspaper title to find articles at Smith.

Find Images - Smith College Libraries' resources for finding images.