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Course: Honors U.S. History (HUSH): Finding primary sources

2022-23 research project guide

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time of the event you are studying. They are different from secondary sources, which are accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without first hand experience. 

Primary sources are created:

  • by someone who was present at or involved in the event
  • at the time of the event OR later in a memoir

A primary source is not necessarily your main source!

Why use primary sources?

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

Coming into close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal, documents and objects can provides a very real sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era.

Locating a primary source

Finding primary sources in US History is mostly difficult because there are so many that it can be hard to narrow it down to the best one for your project. Here are some great places to start:

California Primary Sources


These sites have primary sources focusing on the history of California.