First-Year Composition

This guide will help students find primary and secondary sources for English 101, 102, 112, 198, 298 assignments.

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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.)

Primary Sources

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

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.

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.
Best Bets
Additional Resources

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.

Special Collections

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.