Finding Primary Sources in the Humanities and Social Sciences


Finding Primary Sources in the Humanities and Social Sciences

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 Click here for an interactive tutorial on how to find Primary Sources!

What is a primary source?
Primary sources allow researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened because they are first-hand observations of a time, person or event.  They include documents, images or artifacts that contain original and non-analyzed information from the time period being researched.  They may be found in their original format or may have been reproduced at a later date.  Primary sources are the raw materials that help form the basis for critical analysis of a topic. At UCR, a large repository of primary sources is Special Collection on the 4th floor of Rivera Library.

What is a secondary source?
Secondary sources are written after the time the event occurred.  They analyze, examine or interpret the topic under investigation.  They often use primary sources to support their arguments.

Primary Sources

 Secondary Sources

Audio/Video Recordings
Government Publications
Interviews/Oral Histories
Public Letters
Book Chapters
Literature Reviews
Review Articles

How do I find primary sources in SCOTTY?
SCOTTY (the UCR Libraries catalog) will let you know what books and other materials can be found in the libraries.  Before you start your search:

  • Use reference sources and secondary sources to get an overview of your topic
  • Think about who was around during that time period and what kind of records might have been created
  • Make a list of keywords to describe your topic, date range, geographic places, events, important people, etc.

Use the following "primary source keywords" in combination with words from your list to search SCOTTY.

 Primary Source Keywords

Description and Travel
Diary or diaries
Early works to _____
Oral Histories
Personal Narratives
Pictorial works
Songs and Music

For example, if you were looking for primary sources dealing with Alexander the Great, you might do the following Advanced Keyword Search in SCOTTY (

Click on a title from the results and look at the subject headings or notes for "primary source keywords"


If the information was created during the time period, then most likely it is a primary source. If the information is about the time period, most likely it is a secondary source. Keep in mind that many primary sources have been translated or reprinted and have recent publication dates.

If you need more help with finding primary sources, please visit us at the Reference Desk in Rivera or at Special Collections. 

Last modified: 8/28/2008 1:54 PM

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