HIST 3100 Historian's Craft: Primary Source Databases

General Information

Primary sources are documents, artifacts, and other items created during the time period being studied. Common primary sources include diaries, photographs, interviews, and newspaper articles. However, what counts as a primary source depends on the research question you're asking: while textbooks are largely considered to be secondary sources, an American history textbook published in the 1950s could be a primary source used to investigate what American children were taught about slavery during the Jim Crow era.

Marriott Library Digital Library

The Marriott Library offers access to primary sources in a variety of ways. While students and other researchers are usually encouraged to visit Special Collections to access archival collections, rare books, and other resources in person, the coronavirus pandemic has made that difficult or impossible in many cases. Luckily, many resources have been digitized and are available to view in the Digital Library, including books and pamphlets advocating for and against the American Revolution, pioneer diaries, photographs, and oral histories.

You can search for keywords, authors, titles, and other terms in the Digital Library on your own, or you can contact a member of Special Collections for help locating digitized materials. Note that the Digital Library search engine doesn't work like Google! If you type in "dog" but the resource only mentions "canines," you won't find what you're looking for. Try out synonyms and alternate phrasings to be sure you're finding all the relevant results.


Newspapers can show us how people reacted to historical events, artistic works, and other things in real time. Many newspapers, both from Utah and across the country, have been digitized and are available online.

  • Utah Digital Newspapers (https://digitalnewspapers.org/) currently contains over 3.5 million pages from almost 200 Utah newspapers. You can perform a keyword search of the database or browse for specific newspapers by county and title. 
  • Chronicling America (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) is a Library of Congress program that has digitized over 17 million pages from over 3,000 American newspapers published between 1789 and 1963. You can perform a keyword search of the entire repository or browse papers by state, language, or ethnic group. 

Librarian Robert Behra has an excellent guide on locating and using newspapers for research. Other newspaper databases, including ones that index and digitize international papers, can be found here

Other Primary Source Databases

The Marriott Library subscribes to many primary source databases. Here are some you might find particularly useful.


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Allie McCormack
Subjects: History
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