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National History Day: Primary Sources

Help in research for National History Day projects and links to the National History Day website.


Primary Sources

Helpful Sources

A primary source is

· An original document or item created at the time of an event or shortly thereafter.

· A written text, an image, an artifact, or even a building!

· Written or created by people who were participants or observers during an event.

· Not modified or interpreted by a second person or agency.

Primary sources for a biography of you might be

· Your birth certificate, report cards, diaries, and letters

· Photographs of you at different times in your life, and with various people

· A printed copy, video, or sound recording of a speech you made

· A copy of a patent you received for your famous invention

A secondary source is

· A book, document, or item based on primary sources.

· Information collected and interpreted by a second person or agency.

Secondary sources for the story of your life would be

· A biography of you for which the author has read all your personal papers.

· A study of all your great inventions for which the author has read all your patents and technical articles.

A tertiary source is

· A book, document, or item based on secondary sources.

· Information collected and re-interpreted by a third person or agency.

Tertiary sources for the story of your life would be

· An encyclopedia article based on the biography and the study of your inventions.

· A popular biography or biography for children based on the secondary sources.

For an historical event or movement, your sources might be

· Diaries, memoirs, letters, or autobiographies of people involved in the movement

· Newspaper or magazine articles and editorials written at the time of an event

· Speeches and writings of people involved, either for or against the movement

· Bills proposed and laws passed in Congress

· Propaganda posters, flyers, official publications of the organizations involved

· Photographs, videos, or audio recordings of actual events

· Public opinion surveys measuring people’s attitudes to the event or movement

· Artifacts – actual objects from the time period

Suggestions for Locating Primary Sources


Documents of American History (REF E173.C66 1973c) From the Age of Discovery to the Present

Historic Documents (REF E839.5 .H57) Important documents, 1972 to the present

Government Documents

Many government documents are primary sources. Ask a librarian to help you find ones that pertain to your topic. (e.g.) reports of military services or agencies, statistics, maps

Law Cases

Historic U.S. Court Cases, 1690-1990: An Encyclopedia (LAW KF385.A4 J64 1992) A listing of important court cases from the past 300 years

Landmark Supreme Court Cases: The Most Influential Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States (KF8742.H37 2004) Historic decisions of the United States Supreme Court


The New York Times Index (REF INDEX A1.21.N45) The UTEP Library has the New York Times on microfilm and online from its beginning in 1851.

The Times Index [London, England] (REF INDEX A1.21.T46) The UTEP Library has the London Times on microfilm from its beginning in 1785.

Public Opinion Polls

Gallup Poll Monthly (HM236.G34; latest issues in Current Periodicals)

Gallup Poll Public Opinion, 1935-1971 and 1972-1977 (REF HN90.P8 G3)

Public Opinion Quarterly (HM261.A1 P8; full set in microfilm in Current Periodicals; also online in Ebsco Academic Search Premier)


Vital Speeches of the Day (PN6161.V52; latest issues in Current Periodicals; also online) American and important foreign speeches from 1934 to the present.

The State of the Union Messages of the Presidents (REF J81.C66) Annual speeches of U.S. Presidents to the Congress


Statistical Yearbook (REF HA12.5.U63)

International Historical Statistics (REF HA175.M55)

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