Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

American Presidency Seminar: Primary sources

Keywords to use when searching for primary sources

Archiv* —Notebooks, Sketchbooks
Biography —Personal narratives
—Correspondence Sources
Diaries Speeches

Evaluating primary sources

When you use primary sources, you need to evaluate them just as you would any other type of source. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Who is the author or creator?
  • ​What biases or assumptions may have influenced the author or creator?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • What is the origin of the primary source?
  • What was the significance of the source at the time it was created?
  • Has the source been edited or translated, or altered in some way from the original?
  • What questions could be answered about the time period by using this source?
  • What, if any, are the limitations of the source?
  • Does your understanding of the source fit with other scholars’ interpretations, or does it challenge their argument?
  • Can you substantiate the claims of this source with other primary sources?

Online Primary Sources

Database Primary Sources

Salem History: Milestone Documents in American History

  • Scroll and select "Milestone Documents in American History" as a limit to your search.  Complete a "Keyword" search on your topic (for example, "woodrow wilson" and suffrage).  Look in the box on the left to cite, email or print. 

Primary Sources - Custom Search Engine

When historians talk about evidence, they often mean primary sources. Primary sources (diaries, letters, speeches, newspaper accounts, artifacts, etc. created during the time period being studied) can offer rich and unique insights into your topic.  Thousands of primary documents have been digitized and can be found online on university, government and museum websites.  The Bentley Library also has collections of these documents in printed source books.

American History Primary Sources Custom Search Engine

Link to UCSD U.S. Presidents primary sources guide