Primary Source Information

Picture from Cabrillo College Library 10 Handbook


Databases for Searching for Primary Sources

Opposing Viewpoints -- Santa Cruz Public Library Databases

EBSCOhost-- Santa Cruz Public Library Databases

U.S. History in Context-- Santa Cruz Public Library Databases

World History in Context -- Santa Cruz Public Library Databases

SIRS Issues Researcher -- State of California

Encyclopedia Britannica -- State of California and Santa Cruz Public Library Databases


Primary and Secondary Sources



  • Primary Information comes straight from the people or world that you are researching. It could be called “hands-on” information. A primary source is an original object or document; the raw material or first-hand information. If you were assigned to do research on health care in Santa Cruz County you might write a survey or questionnaire and ask people to give you their opinion of health care in Santa Cruz. Your results of the survey would be primary information. If you are researching the effect of pollution on marine mammals, you might talk to an expert in the field such as someone from Long Marine Lab in Moss Landing. The results of your interview would be primary information. In general diaries, letters, interviews, autobiographies, historical photographs are good sources of primary evidence. There is no better way to study the past than through using original, primary source documents produced within the time period in question.



  • Secondary Information will most likely comprise the majority of your research and is usually much easier to find.  Secondary information is one step removed from the original and usually involves examination or commentary on the primary source of information. Good examples of secondary sources are biographies, encyclopedias and magazine articles.


Identify each source of information as either Primary Information (PI) or Secondary Information (SI).


1.  Interviews            ______                                 6.  Diaries                 ______


2.  Biographies         ______                                 7.  Photographs        ______


3.  Encyclopedias    ______                                  8.  Surveys               ______


4.  Magazine Articles  ______                              9.  Questionnaires    ______


5.  Autobiographies ______                                 10. Letters                ______



Why is it a good idea to try to include some Primary Information in your research?









Primary Sources on the Internet


The Library of Congress -- American Memory
Access NewspaperARCHIVE is a program that gives public libraries and K-12 schools around the world access to's historical newspaper database. With this service, students and library patrons can browse, view, save and print over 100 millions of newspaper pages dating from 1750 to 1977, all through your institution.
Calisphere is a service of the UC Libraries --a world of primary sources and more
Awesome Stories -- Enjoy these stories as you see thousands of hand-selected and relevant pictures, slide-shows, videos, audio-clips, documents and other primary sources linked, in context, where you need them.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School -- Documents in law, history and diplomacy
EuroDocs: Online Sources for European History
FREE--Federal Resources for Educational Excellence 

National Archives--The website is easy to navigate and includes lots of teacher resources. They feature a daily historical document relating to an event from that day in history. The online catalog can be searched using keywords, and 100 "milestone" documents are identified as significant to American history.

DocsTeach-- DocsTeach is full of activities for educators. The documents are organized by different periods in American history. If you're teaching "Civil War and Reconstruction" or "Revolution and the New Nation," just click on the topic to find hundreds of primary source documents. DocsTeach provides audio, video, charts, graphs, maps and more.

Fordham University--resource for global history. Similar to how DocsTeach organizes primary sources into periods of American history, this site categorizes documents as well. From the "Reformation" to "Post-World War II Religious Thought," teachers can find full texts available from Fordham or similar institutions. These sources are appropriate for the middle school and high school classroom.

The Avalon Project--Broken down by time period then listed in alphabetical order, the Avalon Project at Yale University also has primary sources for global history teachers. This database starts with ancient and medieval documents and moves into present times. In addition to categories that address specific historical periods, the Avalon Project includes links to human rights documents as part of Project Diana.

Life Magazine Photo Archive--Google and Life Magazine have a wonderful search engine that lets users search millions of images from the Life Magazine Photo Archive. Not only can you type in key terms to guide your searches, you can also look through images organized by decade (1860s through 1970s) or significant people, places, events or sports topics.

American Memory--The Library of Congress's National Digital Librarycontains more than 40 collections, which feature historical photos, maps, documents, letters, speeches, recordings, videos, prints, and more.