Primary Source Guide

Although this guide may prove useful for many disciplines, it is primarily focused on resources for the humanities. For more information about finding primary sources for the sciences, visit the Evolution of Scientific Information page.


Primary Sources in Musselman Library:

Some primary source materials can be found by searching MUSCAT , the library catalog, using a keyword or subject search. Additional primary sources may be found in Gettysburg College's Special Collections.

  • First try a KEYWORD search which searches all words in the titles, authors, subjects, and notes of MUSCAT records. You can enter words in any order. This is the broadest, safest search. Take note of Subject Headings on promising titles.
  • Next try a SUBJECT search with the subject headings from the keyword search. This searches only the subject fields of MUSCAT records, and word order matters. Ask a librarian if you need help identifying the best subject heading(s) for your topic.
  • Finally try an AUTHOR search to find original writings of a person or documents published by a government or organization (these are called "corporate authors").

    Examine the subject headings carefully. The following subheadings will help you identify books and microfilm that contain primary sources:

--diaries
--correspondence
--case studies
--sources
--documents

--sermons
--early works to  1800
--early works to  1900

--photographs
--posters
--pictorial works
--caricatures and
cartoons
--personal narratives
--interviews
--anecdotes
--underground literature

Ex: United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives

 

Finding Specific Types of Sources:

 

When looking for primary sources, it is helpful to think of them in 4 categories:

Published Works includes materials such as books, textbooks, and pamphlets published during the time period being studied.

Popular press materials include information found in newspapers, magazines and journals.

Public records include a variety of materials such as church records, vital records, laws, bills, census data and court records.

Personal accounts include letters, diaries, slave narratives and oral histories. 

Primary sources may be found in the library on paper, in databases to which the library subscribes, and on free Internet sites.