Kinds of Primary Sources

Books.  Find books (and other resources) in HOLLIS and WorldCat

Periodicals come in the following types: Magazines, Academic -Disciplinary, Professional/Trade, Newspapers, Graphic Novels/ Commics

Personal accounts. These are first person narratives recalling or describing a person’s life and opinions. These include diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and when delivered orally and recorded: Oral histories and Interviews.

Archives and Manuscripts comprise originally unpublished writings or records produced by an individual (personal papers) or an organization in their activities.  Organizations producing archives may be governments (national, state, local), NGOs, corporations, universities.  They may reside with their producing bodies or may have been added to an archival repository.  You typically have to go to the repository to use them.

Government Documents  (National, State, Local) are publications produced for public distribution (unlike archival sources).  We give instructions on finding them in this guide United States, US foreign relations, US state and local, and foreign government documents. 

Historical Statistics.  Most countries publish series of demographic, economic and other statistics.  Statistics are also gathered by non-governmental agencies, including international organizations.  Tools for finding them listed in this guide.   Sample HOLLIS Library Catalog search

Public Opinion. Surveys are available that gauge public opinion on numerous topics.  Instructions for finding them in this guide. Sample HOLLIS Library Catalog search. For the opinion of a particular group of people use the Subject term: Attitudes - Sample HOLLIS Library Catalog search.

Law:  Legal sources include:Laws, Case law: Appeals court opinions, Trial transcripts or accounts 

Gray Literature refers to reports produced and published by governmental or non-governmental agencies (think tanks, research institutes) but not published via the usual commercial or academic channels.  Think tank publications often offer the views of particular ideological groups. They may be studies of policy (often called working papers) or technical studies (called technical reports)

Country, State, and Local Information.  Information about a particular country, state or city/town at a particular time is available via a variety of sources including: Annual country reference publication series, State and Local Government documents, Travelers’ writings, and guidebooks.City directories

Literary Works: literary works and works of literary scholarship  are listed in the research guide: Literary Research in Harvard Libraries.

Images.  Harvard has numerous collections of images which are best searched via HOLLIS Images.  Tools for finding them listed in this guide.

Film.  As well as entertainment films, there are documentary films and newsreels. Tools for finding them listed in this guide.  The Library has a guide for streaming video.

Broadcast. Much news is distributed via radio and TV.  Tools for finding broadcast news, radio and TV listed in this guide.

Material.  Much historical evidence resides in material objects.  Find what Harvard has with a form/genre search in HOLLIS (HOLLIS Library Catalog Example - note that we exclude Visual in the search). We have a draft (unfinished) guide to American material culture.  Links to Harvard museums.


Comics & Graphic Novels

Oral History

Library Research Guide for Oral History

Oral History in HOLLIS or WorldCat search: topical keyword (or Subject term) AND (interviews OR "oral histor*"); search (interviews OR "oral histor*") as Subject keyword

Oral History Online indexes oral history collections, with links to interview-level bibliographic records and to full-text materials, audio files and visual files where these are available.

Civil Rights History Project offers inventory of oral-history interviews with participants in the civil rights movement held in libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, and other institutions. Links to catalog records and finding aids.

Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, 1960-1974 includes letters, diaries, and oral histories, together with posters, broadsides, pamphlets, advertisements, and audio and video materials.

Digital Oral History Projects

Oral History Association, Centers and Collections

Oral History Association, Web Guides to Doing Oral History

Asian American Oral History Collections, Digital Archives, and Sites:

Television, Documentary Film and Newsreel E-Resources

Maps & Visualizations

The Harvard Map Collection contains one of the world’s finest collections of maps. Although their atlases are in HOLLIS, many of their individual maps are not. Som a visit is useful. As well as political and topographic maps, they have numerous thematic maps which map demographic, social, and economic other features.


Government Data Sources

US Data

  • ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research)


Bibliographies, Encylclopedia & Indexes

Background & Context