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Primary Sources

Resources for Primary Source materials.

What are Primary Sources?

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are documents or physical objects which were created--in many formats--during the time an event happened. We can think of it as a "first-hand testimony." Examples of primary sources (hover over any in bold face to see an image from Adelphi Archives and Special Collections!):

Secondary sources offer evaluation, discussion, or analysis on primary sources and are usually created some time after the original time of the event. Examples of secondary sources:

  • biographies
  • books, magazine, journal, or newspaper articles about people or events
  • editorials
  • discussions, commentary, and analyses of primary sources
  • book, film, theatre reviews
  • literature reviews
  • textbooks

The key to determining whether an item may be considered to be a primary source is to ask how soon after the event was the information recorded. This can be a problem with an autobiography, memoir, reminiscence, etc., if the author is working several years with only the memory of what happened. If you're not sure whether something is an acceptable primary source, ask your professor.

U.S. National Archives Administration home page provides helpful information when starting archival (primary source) research.

Online Searching Tips

Search Tips

Some libraries and archives have web sites where they list and describe their research collections.  The tips provided here should work for most internet search engines.


Place your search phrases in quotes in order to find that exact phrase on web sites.  Otherwise, the search engine may search for sites containing any word in your search terms.  Do not use any spaces between the quotes and the phrase you want to search for. 

Example: "theodore roosevelt"

Including Terms

Placing a plus sign ( + ) in front of your search term will require the search engine to find that term somewhere on the page, rather than in keywords which may be hidden in the coding in the background of the page.  Do not use any spaces between the plus sign and the word you want to include. 

Example: +"theodore roosevelt" +papers

Excluding Terms

If you do not want to see pages from popular web sites, such as Wikipedia or Amazon, you can use a minus sign ( - ) to exclude pages with these terms.  Do not use any spaces between the minus sign and the word you want to exclude. 

Example: -Amazon.

About "Archives"

Primary Source Journals

Adelphi Journals Specific to the Field of Primary Sources