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Library "Do-It-Yourself" (DIY)

I'm looking for primary sources

In the arts and humanities a primary source is a source created during the historical period being studied. It documents the subject of study in some way. In the sciences "primary source" refers to an original research study.

This page focuses on primary sources for the arts and humanities. Examples of such primary sources include: 

Newspaper accounts Letters, diaries, and scrapbooks
Government documents 
(research data, statistics, 
Congressional transcripts, laws, etc.)
Personal accounts,
autobiographies, and
Images and museum artifacts Speeches
Data from scientific experiments Oral histories


Other types of information may also be primary sources if they are analyzed for their historical or cultural significance. 

Below are top strategies for finding historical primary sources.

1. Search the Library Catalog

1. FAU Libraries Catalog includes primary source materials available in print, online, and in microfilm. If you are looking for a specific item, search by title or author. 

If you are looking for primary sources on a certain topic, do an Advanced Search. Here you can limit by format (e.g., map, film, manuscript, realia), publication year, author, or subject. (Subjects can be especially helpful for narrowing a search by topic or by document type.) 

Advanced search options.

Here are some recommended catalog search terms for locating primary sources. 

  • To find any kind of primary source: sources or documents (examples: medieval sources, civil war documents, papal sources)
  • Personal accounts, autobiographies, or memoirs: personal narratives or autobiography or memoir (examples: Pearl Harbor personal narratives, battle of the bulge memoir, autobiography world war II)
  • Letters: correspondence or letters (examples: Civil War correspondence, French revolution letters)
  • Diaries: diary (examples: Civil War diary, woman diary France)
  • Oral history: interview or oral history or speeches (examples: Cold War interview, Japanese internment oral history, Malcolm X speeches)
  • Pamphlet: pamphlet (examples: suffrage pamphlet, rights of women pamphlet)
  • Photographs or artwork: pictorial works (examples: Chicago pictorial works, World's Fair pictorial works)

Try these words in a general keyword search or, to narrow your results, limit the search to "subject." 

Enter a subject term and select subject in the drop-down menu.

Subject headings describe what an item is about. Click on the subject heading to find more books that have been tagged with the same heading. 

See the subject headings and follow subject heading links to find similar items.

2. Search Google Books

If your topic relates to an event that occurred before 1923, there are likely relevant primary sources available in the public domain. Google Books has digitized and made available many such books.

Search for a specific work or for a general topic. Note, however, that Google Books also lists resources that are only available to preview. Look for resources with publication dates before 1923 and with a Read link. The Advanced Book Search allows you to limit to Full view only books.

3. Search in Relevant Library Databases

Below is a core list of primary source databases the library offers.  A more substantial list of primary source databases and resources can be found at the Primary Sources Subject Guide

Newspapers & Media

Government Documents