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History Guide

Welcome to the History Library Guide. This guide is intended to help you make the most of library resources for your history classes.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the foundation of historical research. They provide first-hand or contemporary documentation of the time period, culture, events, people, and places you are researching. Examples of primary sources include:

  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Government documents
  • Interviews
  • Photographs
  • Artwork
  • Physical artifacts
  • Sound recordings
  • Moving images


Whether or not a source is a primary source sometimes depends on context. For instance, Arthur Miller's play The Crucible would not be considered a primary source for research on the Salem Witch Trials. It would, however, be a primary source for a study of McCarthyism and the Red Scare.

Locating Primary Sources

Primary sources are available at UF in a variety of physical formats, including books, periodicals, microform, and archival materials. Finding primary sources in the physical collections can be challenging since they are often shelved alongside secondary sources. The library catalog can help you to locate primary sources that may be on the shelf.

Start by conducting a search for your topic in the UF Library Catalog.

The search bar for the UF Libraries Catalog has the search term civil war in quotes. The dropdown option to search in the UF Library Catalog has been circled.


Use the "Genre" facet to limit your results to types of primary sources. Look for terms such as Biography, Correspondence, Diaries, Early Works, Facsimiles, Interviews, Manuscripts, Narratives, Notebooks, Pamphlets, Sources, or Speeches.

Results from a library catalog search of the phrase Civil War with the focus on the search facet filter on the left. Arrows point to genre types that indicate primary sources.

Note: The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), which determine the Genre facet, use "Sources" instead of "Primary Sources." "Biography" also refers to autobiographies.

Several of the databases available through the UF Libraries contain primary sources. The contents of these databases can vary widely. Some offer access to the contents of one or two specific archival collections, while others draw on contents held by multiple organizations. Some databases are curated to contain documents related to a specific topic, while others cover multiple topics but may focus on a type of source, such as newspapers or sound recordings.

To find databases that focus on primary sources, a good starting point is to go to the A-Z Databases list and filter your results by "Vendor/Provider." A few vendors focus on primary source content.

  • Accessible Archives focuses on transcribed content from historical newspapers and periodicals from the United States.
  • Adam Matthew Digital UK has digitized primary sources from archives in the US and the UK.
  • East View produces databases containing global newspaper and periodical content with an emphasis on Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
  • Newsbank has databases for global, national, and local newspapers.

The following databases have a broad range of primary sources covering multiple topics and time periods:

The Special and Area Studies Collections (SASC) are home to archival materials that reflect a wide range of cultures, geographical locations, time periods, and disciplines. To explore the physical holdings of SASC, browse the UF Archival and Manuscript Finding Aids. You can also search SASC materials using the library catalog.

Some of the collections from SASC have been digitized and can be found in the UF Digital Collections (UFDC), along with other digital content from UF and partner institutions. (UFDC contents will not appear in the library catalog.)

Guides to the Special Collections at UF

Need to access sources that aren't available at UF? There are a few places to look:

  • WorldCat allows you to search the collections of thousands of libraries from around world.
  • ArchiveGrid is an index of archival content from over 1400 institutions, with information about the archival materials and where to locate them.
  • The Libraries' Interlibrary Loan (ILL) staff can help you track down locations and request items from other libraries if you know the bibliographical information.
  • For help locating primary sources outside UF or gaining access to them, request a research consultation with the History Librarian.

When looking for primary sources outside of the UF Libraries, it is important to allow yourself plenty of extra time. Although the number of digitized collections continues to grow, some things are only available in person. Many archival items are not available through ILL. You may need to visit the archive, museum, or library in order to view their collections. Before planning a research visit, make sure you contact the institution to verify availability of the materials you need and learn about the institution's policies regarding visiting researchers.

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