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Finding Primary Sources


Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources are generally first person accounts, original creative works, and raw data; however, what constitutes a primary source varies by discipline.  A scholar in the humanities may use a newspaper photograph or a poem as a primary source while a scientist might use data from an experiment or an artifact from an archaeological dig. 

Secondary sources comment upon, explain, or interpret primary sources.  They may include scholarly books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies, reviews, and textbooks. 


Primary Source
Secondary Source

Picasso’s Painting, Guernica


Article showing the influence of an artist of the German Renaissance on Picasso
Letters of a Georgia family in the 19th century Book about motherhood in the19th century South
Novel, Robinson Crusoe Book analyzing the early English novel
Political Science
Election data Article analyzing media effects on voting behavior
Primary research article on Varicella-Zoster virus Review article on Varicella-Zoster virus
Play, A Raisin in the Sun A review of a performance of the play

Choosing the Right Database

The best way to choose a primary source database is to go through the subject pages. Visit your subject page by clicking on the link for your discipline under Primary Sources by Subject to the right on this page. 

Generally speaking, these databases contain historical documents (such as letters and diaries), literary works, and historical newspapers. 

Primary sources can also be found by searching JMU Library Catalog and WorldCat.  The Special Collections department also houses unique primary source materials.

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