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United States History Research Guide

Primary and secondary sources for the study of US History.

What are Primary Sources?

Historians make distinctions between what they call primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are firsthand accounts of events, recorded or produced by witnesses or recorders who were present at the time of the event or experienced the conditions being documented. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original, microfilm/microfiche, digital format, or published format. Historians carefully read and evaluate primary sources to make decisions about how and why things happened as they did.

A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. It is generally at least one-step removed from the event. Examples include scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, and textbooks.

Special Collections at Emory

A large number of primary sources related to the history of the United States are housed at Emory's various libraries.

Special Collections Catalogs and Finding Aids


Beyond Emory

Primary Source Databases

Emory University makes a good deal of primary sources available to students in a digital format. To see the complete list of digitized primary source databases available to students, click here.