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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

History and American Studies: Uncovering Primary Sources

A research guide to finding books, articles, and other resources in History and American Studies

Using Primary Sources

Primary sources "include all materials produced by people. They include obvious sources like diaries, letters, speeches, government documents, contemporary publications, laws, police and court records, maps, newspapers, and photographs.

"Remember, however, that there are other primary sources too: public opinion polls, telephone directories, coins, inscriptions, advertisements, business records, works of art, city directories, poetry, music, buildings, statues, organizational minutes, railroad schedules, birth, marriage, and death records, novels, political debates, films, furniture, and tombstones. This list is far from exhaustive."  (From the UMW History and American Studies' Primary Sources web page.)

Databases for Primary Source Materials

Primary Source Collections

Tips for Finding Primary Sources

  • Check the bibliography and notes of your secondary sources. 
  • Watch for these terms in subject headings
    • Sources
    • Personal narratives (for first-person accounts)
    • Diaries
    • Correspondence
    • Interviews
  • Look in the library catalog for diaries, journals, memoirs by individuals, collections of the papers of notable people, and published collections of primary resources.
  • Use the Advanced Search feature in the library's catalog to refine your search.

Newspapers are often excellent primary sources.  Be sure to check the Newspaper Articles guide, authored by Emeritus Librarian Jack Bales.  

Also be sure to check the UMW History and American Studies Resources page.  

Primary Source Collections Online

Libraries and Archives

UMW Special Collections and University Archives

Simpson LIbrary's Special Collections and University Archives includes a collection of rare books and archival materials relating to the history of the Fredericksburg area and of the institution.  Access is by appointment only at this time.  To make an appointment, call (540) 654-1752 or email

Our Digital Collections include collections of photographs, materials relating to James Farmer, oral histories compiled by university faculty and students, and a rich array of other items.  You can search through digitized versions of the Battlefield, the Bullet, Blue & Gray Press, and other publications using Eagle Explorer.

The DIgital Archiving Lab in room 322 of the Hurley Convergence Center has specialized equipment for scanning and preserving materials from our collections or for projects in History and American Studies courses.