Challenge Library Guide for Student Research: Primary Sources in Books

Finding Primary Sources

Search for Primary Sources

A primary source is an item that was created during the period being studied, and it documents in some way what is being studied. Examples of primary sources include speeches, diaries, newspapers, and personal accounts. 

Additionally, primary sources can be contextual to the research, for example a television show like Game of Thrones could be a primary source for research about power relationships.

Search the PSU Library Catalog

Go to the PSU Library Catalog and look for primary sources on a certain topic by using the Advanced Search:

  • In the first search field, leave the menu on Any Field and then enter keyword(s) for your topic;
  • In the second search field, change the drop-down menu to Subject, then add the type of primary source.

This image shows a search for a memoir related to Paul West.

advanced search in the library catalog for Paul West and and the Subject: Memoir

Choose multiple related topics by inserting a capitalized OR between them. 

This image shows a search for "civil war" as a keyword phrase and correspondence OR diaries as the types of primary resources. 

Advanced Search in the Library Catalog for "Civil War" and Correspondence OR Diaries

Search the Public Domain

If your topic is pre-1923, you can find primary sources that are in the public domain. Resources in the public domain are not under copyright protection and are usually available online for free. Google, HathiTrust, and the Digital Public Library of America have digitized documents from the world's major research libraries. The Chronicling America project at the Library of Congress has digitized American newspapers from 1836 to 1922.

Books with Primary Sources

Primary sources in books can seem like secondary sources, especially based on the publication date. The books listed here are examples of primary sources re-printed or re-published in later volumes. 

What is a subject heading?

Subject headings are a formalized way of of searching library catalogs. The right subect heading can help you get to information more quickly.

For example, the American Revolutionary War can be described using the following terms:

  • American Revolution
  • American Revolutionary War
  • War of the American Revolution
  • American War of Independence
  • War of American Independence
  • War of Independence

You could search the library catalog for all those keywords. Or, use one subject heading to find all of the library's materials about the the American Revolutionary War:
United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783

Searching for primary source materials by author

Materials written by a person (or an organization) are considered primary sources for research on that person. Search the catalog for a historical person's name, and then click on their name to find everything they have written.

Who determines subject headings? The Library of Congress. Copies of the complete set of the Library of Congress Subject Headings are available at the Reference Desk.