Skip to Main Content

History 9: Early Modern World: Finding Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Cartoon shows King George, dressed as an old woman, the Queen, and the Prince of WalesGillray, James, Artist. Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition Feast, 1787. [London: Pubd. by S. W. Fores, th] Photograph.


Primary sources are original materials. They are from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation. Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based. They are usually the first formal appearance of results in physical, print or electronic format. They present original thinking, report a discovery, or share new information.

Examples of primary sources include: artifacts, audio recordings, diaries, interviews, letters, newspaper articles, original documents, photographs, records of organizations, speeches, video recordings, and works of art.

Primary Sources in Subscription Databases

All subscription databases include primary sources, as well as articles, critical essays, and other types of information. So, when you search for information, you can select primary sources from the results of your search. See the screenshot below that shows the types of resources, including primary sources, available in one database after a search for "Cold War era." If you only want to see the primary sources, just click on that link.

Primary Sources results in a database.


Large Primary Source Collections on the Web

Primary Sources on the Web by Topic

After 500 Years: The Protestant Reformation from University of Arizona special collections.

Click on the menu button (top left of the home page) to see this online overview of the Reformation, with pamphlets, texts, illustrations and more. Topics include: Late Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance and Humanism, Printing, Luther's Life and Theology, the Bible, Other Reformers, Confessional Conflicts, Impact on Daily Life, and Afterlife of Reformation.

From the Reformation to the Thirty Years War (1500-1648) 

A combination of primary source documents and articles from German History in Docments and Images (GHDI). Click on Introduction for articles covering the period.  Each section has been compiled by one or two leading scholars.

Martin Luther from PBS

Martin Luther as Priest, Heretic, and Outlaw: The Reformation at 500 from the Library of Congress European Division.






Newspapers, Data and Statistics, and other Sources of Historical Information