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HIST 4800: U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1945 & HIST 4390: United States and the World: The Cold War Era: Primary Sources

A guide to library and Internet resources that may be useful for doing research on post-World War II United States foreign policy and in U.S. foreign relations during the Cold War.

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