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Library DIY: Finding Other Resources

Primary Sources (Historical)

What is meant by a "primary source" can differ based on the field/discipline - this guide focuses on primary sources in the historical sense (a source from the time period you are studying).

This is different than in the Sciences, where a primary source is the first writing of new research. It reports on a single experiment and is written by those who did the research (see What is an empirical source or primary article?), or English where a primary source may refer to a piece of literature you are analyzing.


1. Historical Newspapers

Westminster College has access to the New York Times back to 1851. This access includes indexed articles as well as PDF files of images from the print edition. There is no single link to access and search all New York Times content. Instead, there are two links, depending on the time period of the content.

Please access the New York Times via one of the following links:

  • 1851-2016 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
  • 1980-present (U.S. Major Dailies: New York Times, Late Edition)

IMPORTANT:  Westminster College does not have free access to all content on the New York Times home page. Our access is provided by ProQuest, which has indexed the content for use on its own web site. Going to is not an alternative means to access all New York Times content that is available to Westminster College.


2. Primary Sources in Books

Quite a few books include documents and other primary sources in the text. Sometimes, these books include analysis, sometimes they are presented without comment. Often these books will include words like "primary sources", "documents", or "documentary history" in the title or summary.

To find books like these, you can add “Document*” or “Primary sources” to a broad WISE search.


3. Primary Source Databases

The library subscribes to several databases that have primary sources.

From the library’s website, select Online Resources then choose Primary Sources from the drop-down list. 

Screenshot of the "Online Resources page on the library's website. By using the drop-down menu, one can selece "Primary Sources" to see potentially relevant databases.

4. Primary Sources on the web

A growing number of primary sources held by other institutions are digitized.

Here are a few great places to start your search:

You can also Google "primary sources + your topic" to see what comes up. You may find academic and government websites with freely-available collections or recommendations for books and online sources. If you find something that you want to use, but it isn't free, the library may be able to get a copy for you through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).  Contact John Garrison for help!