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Hope Library Guides

HIST 208 World History since 1500: Primary Sources

What is a primary source? What is a secondary source?

Primary Source keyword/type examples

Use these terms as keywords in your search to help you find primary sources related to your subject.  Try to think about in what format/genre the information might have been recorded in.

  • correspondence
  • pamphlets
  • sources
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • speeches
  • interviews
  • oral history / oral histories / oral narratives
  • documents
  • archives
  • microfilm


Primary Sources in PRIMO

Primary sources include a variety of materials written or created during the time period of the topic you are researching.

Primary Sources Online: Finding, Evaluating, and Using from the American Library Association

Library collections include primary sources in a variety of formats. Most of those in the Hope College Libraries are in book form. In some cases, the content of the book has been transferred to microfiche or a special type of microfiche known as ultrafiche.

One method for finding books that may be considered primary sources is to search PRIMO using keywords that describe your topic in combination with the following terms:

  • sources;
  • personal narratives;
  • diaries;
  • correspondence;
  • interviews;
  • church records and registers;
  • sermons;
  • early works;
  • wills;
  • photographs.

Remember that you may need to think about your topic broadly to find primary sources using this method. After actually looking at the source you will know whether or not it effectively addresses your specific topic.

For additional assistance locating and using primary source materials, please consult the Van Wylen Library Reference Desk.

Searching for Primary Sources on the Web

There are many primary source collections freely available online. 

Try searching on national library websites of countries you are researching, or do a very broad search on your topic in combination with words/phrases like "digital archive" or "primary sources" or "digitized" or "digital collection."

For example: 

jane addams digital collection 

france national library digitized


  • If your topic is geographically specific, do some browsing on the state library websites for in your area to see if they have any digitization projects from their collection.
  • If you discover that a particular library is strong in your subject area, check their website as well.
  • Browse the subject guides of major research libraries, they will often include helpful weblinks in subject specific guides.
  • When searching on the internet, try including words like "digital collection" or "primary sources" along with your more general subject
  • If you are looking for a specific older published source, type in its specific title; it might come up in a digital collection or Google Books.

Hope Electronic Collections

At Hope Libraries, we subscribe to several full text databases of published primary sources.  They are searchable by keyword, so you can do very precise searches on your topic in newspapers, magazines and journals.  Because these databases are so large t is helpful to narrow by date range to the time period in which you are interested.

General Primary Source Collections

Slave trade related primary sources