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Primary Sources

Guides to print, microform, and online collections

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is an original document, or a record of a firsthand account of an historical event. Primary sources can include original manuscripts, correspondence, speeches, diaries, memoirs, journals, newspaper clippings, statistics, legal documents, records of organizations, photographs and film footage. Primary sources may also include drawings, posters, inscriptions on monuments or tombstones, and writings by observers.
Primary source documents are often rare, one of a kind items, usually found in museums, research libraries, special collections and archives. Original documents are not readily accessible to the average researcher. However, there are many reprints, facsimiles and translations of primary sources that are generally acceptable for most undergraduate research projects.
To locate primary sources in the College Libraries, search BearCat (SUNY Potsdam Library Catalog). You can do a subject search on your topic, and combine it with subject subdivision terms for primary sources.