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Full Primary Source Guide
Please note: the primary source guide shown on this page is a starting point. Please see the full primary source guide for resources that have been selected for topics related to particular courses (i.e. food, pop culture, gender, military life, etc.)
A primary source is any object, document, or other resource that originates from the time under study. Primary sources can come in the form of diaries, interviews (with people from the time period about that time), audio and video recordings, posters, letters, etc.
For primary source research, see the full primary source guide, or scroll down for a more basic version to get you started.
Basic Primary Source Guide
- Primary vs. Secondary Sources
- Historic Newspapers
- Historic Magazines
- Historic Images
- Video Streaming
- Citing Sources
- Related Guides
Click through these tabs to see links and resources helpful for locating primary sources. This guide is meant to help you find and explore primary sources available through the library's website. This selection from the full primary source guide provides a starting point for finding newspapers, magazines, images, videos, and more. For resources curated for finding primary sources pertaining to particular course topics, see the full primary source guide.
A primary source is a direct record of an event or subject.
A secondary source describes, analyzes, interprets or synthesizes information about an event.
However, primary and secondary sources are relative terms. For example, a magazine is usually considered a secondary source, but to a researcher studying American food magazines in the 80s, such a magazine would be considered a primary source.
- America's Historical Newspapers (1960-1993)Full-text of U.S. newspapers. Comprised of two databases: Early American Newspapers Series 1 - 3 and 20th-Century American Newspapers Series 1 - 3. Covers 1960-1993.
- Chronicling American (1836-1922)Historical U. S. newspapers digitized under the auspices of the Library of Congress. UT Libraries are part of this cooperative venture and have added selected Tennessee newspapers.
- Nexis UniProvides content from US and international magazines, journals, newspapers, television and radio broadcasts dating back mostly from the 1990s with some content from the 1970s. Also includes legal research sources and business information for US and international companies. Majority of sources in this database are more contemporary so more historic topics will probably not be found here.
- ProQuest Historical Newspapers (1764-2004)A collection of selected U.S. newspapers. Dates vary, but most titles date back to the 1800s.
Magazines via Google Books. In particular, you may be interested in:
- Billboard Magazine (1942-2010/11)
- Magazine covering popular culture in relation to the music industry. Issues of the magazine may contain reviews of music as well as popular opinion concerning musical artists of the time. This may be a good resource for students interested in researching Vietnam protest music
- JET Magazine (1951-2008/9)
- Magazine with the specific audience of African Americans covering topics of political and entertainment news. This may be a good resource for students researching topics in relation to Civil Rights in the 1960’s.
- LIFE Magazine (1936-1972)
- Magazine covering various current events contemporary to the time. The magazine has a photography focus, and because of this, the resource would be an excellent choice for students wishing to find image based primary sources.
- American Periodicals (1740-1920)Full-text of periodicals including popular and scholarly titles, children's magazines, and trade journals. This resource could be used to find primary sources on a variety of topics including, but not limited to, American social norms and historic sciences.
- Vogue Archives (1892-present)Magazine covering the topic of fashion and lifestyle. This magazine focuses on celebrities and their lifestyle, and it would be a good resource for students interested in finding primary sources on the lives of famous individuals.
- Entertainment Industry Magazine ArchiveArchival research resource containing US and UK trade magazines for studying the history of the film and entertainment industries. Issues scanned in high-resolution color. Coverage from 1880 to 2000.
- ARTStorMore than one million digital images in the arts, architecture, humanities, and sciences. With a registered account you can also curate groups of images, share them, and download them directly into presentations.Note: To download images you must register for an account. After you have registered for an account, you will have 120 days of remote access. After 120 days you will need to log in to ARTStor from a computer on campus, or through our proxy server, in order to reset your remote access for another 120 days.
- Associated Press Images CollectionContemporary and historical images from the Associated Press.Please see this FAQ for extra instructions about accessing EBSCOhost databases or ebooks via screen reader or keyboard navigation. For more help, please contact email@example.com.
- Prints & Photographs Online (Library of Congress)Photographs, fine and popular prints, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. Primarily American focus, but does include some international materials.
- Time & Life PicturesThe LIFE Picture Collection documents events in politics, culture, celebrities, the arts and the American experience in the 20th Century.
- Ad*AccessU.S. and Canadian advertisements between 1911 and 1955. Five primary areas of focus - Radio, Television, Transportation, Beauty and Hygiene, and World War II.
- London Low Life: Street Culture, Social Reform, and the Victorian UnderworldContains color digital images of rare books, ephemera, maps and other materials relating to 19th and early 20th century London. Also includes secondary sources such as maps and essays.
- National Portrait GalleryThe Smithsonian’s collection of over 15,000 works featuring scientists, statesmen, film stars, and more. Ranges from 19th daguerreotypes to recent video.
- New York Public Library Digital CollectionsLarge collection of digital images with a broad scope. Includes photographs, manuscripts, fashion, maps, book art and illustration, posters and more. Updated often. Particularly interesting selection of Public Domain materials and collection of theatre photography.
- The Public Domain ReviewCollection of images exploring the “curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas”. Hard to summarize, but worth searching for niche or obscure topics, inventions, artists, and oddities.
- Science & Society Picture Library (UK)The official picture library for the visual collections of the Science Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, the Science and Media Museum, the Railway Museum and Locomotion.
Collections of items recorded from television, including commercials, old television shows, government proceedings, and more.
Access to thousands of streaming videos, including collections and titles from PBS, BBC, Criterion Collection, Media Education Foundation and more.
A large streaming video and audio collection from Alexander Street Press. Includes documentaries, films, interviews, music, news programs, and performances.
From the most important productions of Shakespeare to rare in-depth footage focusing on the work of Samuel Beckett, Theatre in Video, when complete, will offer more than 500 hours of online streaming video, available electronically for the first time.
A collection of popular contemporary movies available on campus.
Contains silent feature films, serials, and shorts from the 1890s to the 1930s that represent the foundation of modern cinematic technique and film theory.
Contain 250 of the most important opera performances, captured on video through staged productions, interviews, and documentaries.
Authoritative citation guide covering MLA, APA, and Chicago Style. The guide offers a good array of examples for citing materials in a variety of formats.
Specialized guide from the Library of Congress providing in depth examples of citations for the MLA citation format.
General guide created by UT libraries to assist students in finding resources to perfect their citations.
Contains an organized listing of newspaper database within UT library subscriptions. Contains both historic and contemporary first hand accounts of events. When selecting a database, try to go by the dates related to the event in question.
Research guides offered for UT's Special Collections. Offers resources focused primarily on the history of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Appalachia, and its surrounding communities. The special collections would be an excellent resource for students who want physical access to primary source materials, as the special collections are available for physical viewing on the first floor of Hodges Library
If you have questions or comments about this guide, contact Erin Whitaker.
Primary Versus Secondary Sources
This interactive module provides scenarios and explanations about how to differentiate between primary and secondary sources.
• Quiz questions are included throughout the module.
• Certificate of Completion available.
- Tutorial completion time.
- Takes 10-30 minutes.
- Which device types will tutorial work on?
- Works best on desktop / laptop or tablet.
- Which browsers will tutorial work on?
- Works on all major browsers.
Did you know that we have a wide variety of primary sources collected and preserved in our library? To learn more about the University of Tennessee's special collections and archives, check out them out online, or stop by the reading room on the first floor of Hodges.
ENG 102 students, see the Special Collections research guide, which highlights resources in Special Collections specifically selected to support the research of English 102 students.