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BGSU University Libraries

HIST 4220: Era of the American Revolution 1763-1789: Primary Sources

A guide to BGSU library resources that might be useful for studying the United States before and during the American Revolution.

What Is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are the "materials on a topic upon which subsequent interpretations or studies are based, anything from firsthand documents such as poems, diaries, court records, and interviews to research results generated by experiments, surveys, ethnographies, and so on."*

Primary sources are records of events as they are first described, usually by witnesses or by people who were involved in the event. Many primary sources were created at the time of the event, but can also include memoirs, oral interviews, or accounts that were recorded later.  Visual materials, such as photos, original artwork, posters, and films are important primary sources, not only for the factual information they contain, but also for the insight they may provide into how people view their world.  Primary sources may also include sets of data, such as census statistics, which have been tabulated, but not interpreted.  

*From Hairston, Maxine and John J. Ruszkiewicz. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers. 4th ed. New York : HarperCollins College Publishers, 1996, pg. 547.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Diaries
  • Oral Interviews
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Clothing
  • Photographs
  • Audio files
  • Video files
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Manuscript census records
  • Artifacts