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Primary Sources

A multi-disciplinary guide to finding primary source material, in print and online

What is a primary source?

A primary source is a document, object, or other evidence that was created during the time period under study (or after the time period in the form of memoirs or oral histories).

Primary sources come in many forms, such as diaries, letters, speeches, government documents, books, pamphlets, periodicals, newspaper articles, interviews, music, photographs, and artifacts. Because they were created by people living in the period under study, primary sources provide a direct, inside look at events, attitudes, and customs.

Finding primary sources can be difficult, so don’t hesitate to ask a reference librarian for help.

Ask a Librarian

Off campus?

In this guide, the Icon icon indicates a licensed database that can be accessed outside the library only by UVM affiliates using the "Connect Off Campus" link on the library home page. All users, including those not affiliated with UVM, may use these resources from a computer in the library.

How to use the library catalog to find primary sources

The library has many books containing primary source material. The instructions below will tell you how to find them. Check the other tabs on this Web guide for other ways to find primary sources.

1. Go to the Classic Library Catalog ( and click “Guided Keyword.”

2. In the first search box, type one or more keywords describing the event, person, or topic of interest.

3. In the second search box, type one or more of the following special subject heading words that are typically used to identify primary sources.You can use more than one of these, but if you do so, be sure the drop-down menu next to the search box says “any of these.”

early works [for this term, change the drop-down menu next to the search box to say "as a phrase"]

picture of catalog search screen

You can also search for materials written by key participants (people or organizations) in the events of interest:

1. In the Classic Library Catalog, click "Quick Search."

2. Type the author name in the search box, and change the drop-down menu to read "Author." (Use the search hints on the screen to properly enter the author name.)