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High School: Primary Sources

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects that were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts that retell, analyze, or interpret events, usually at a distance of time or place. 

Library of Congress, Getting Started with Primary Sources.

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include:

  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • diaries
  • journals
  • contemporaneous newspaper articles
  • speeches
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • government documents
  • photographs
  • audio recordings
  • moving pictures or video recordings 
  • research data
  • objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons
  • and other documents of the time

What is a Primary Source?

Primary Source Resources

Chronicling America

Chronicling America is a Website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages, and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). ChroniclingAmerica

100 Milestone Documents


Hyperlinked list of 100 milestone documents, compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration, and drawn primarily from its nationwide holdings. The documents chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.


Letters of Note


A compulsive collection of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and powerful letters with art at their heart.

Includes letters by Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Artemisia Gentileschi, Oscar Howe, Martin Scorsese, Henri Matisse, Mick Jagger, Augusta Savage, Vincent van Gogh & many more.

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)


Discover 41,763,311 images, texts, videos, and sounds from across the United States

Browse by TopicNew? Start Here

"As of December 2020, we have built a robust, open-source architecture to discover and explore nearly a half million people records and 5 million data points. From archival fragments and spreadsheet entries, we see the lives of the enslaved in richer detail."

Founders Online



George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. Over 185,000 searchable documents, fully annotated, from the authoritative Founding Fathers Papers projects.

Primary Source Search

Search for text and images across the primary source portals with this Google Custom Search Engine

Library of Congress Research Guide


Internet Archive Television Search




American Heritage Archive


An excellent source for historical research.  Many of the articles contain primary sources.

Browse Archive

Advanced Search

Life Photo Archive


LIFE photo archive hosted by Google

Search millions of historic photos

Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google.

1860s 1870s 1880s 1890s
1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s
1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s

Search tip

Add "source:life" to any Google image search and search only the LIFE photo archive. For example: computer source:life

Cagle Political Cartoons




Video library offering Congressional legislation, documents from the President and Supreme Court decisions.

New Jersey Primary Source Resources

What Was There?

WhatWasThere ties historical photos to Google Maps allowing you to tour familiar streets to see how they appeared in the past.

Sepia Town

A project of . . .