The Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library

Stories of the Susquehanna Valley: Primary Sources (General)

Collections of Digitized Primary Sources

Find Articles in Historic Newspapers


This project may require that you use still images that you did not create (for instance, a 19th century print showing Joseph Priestley or a painting of the Susquehanna River). 

There are many ways to find images.  Take a look at Bucknell's Image Resources Guide for some starting places. 

Because this documentary will one day be made public on the web and may even be on public television, we will need to request permission to use images from the copyright holder or from the library, archive, museum, or other institution that owns the work.  We will discuss this process in our meetings. You should feel free to search the digital image collections listed on the image guide to find possible images, but keep in mind that you will not be able to simply use the images that you find even if they are licensed through Creative Commons. 


What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original documents, the first-hand accounts of a time period or an event. 

Types of primary sources include texts (letters, diaries, government reports, newspaper articles, novels, autobiographies), images (photographs, paintings, advertisements), artifacts (buildings, clothing, sculpture) and audio/visual (songs, oral history interviews, photos, films).

Primary sources may be available in their original form, or they may be reproduced, digitized, or reprinted in other sources.

Secondary sources are written about primary sources. Secondary sources include comments, interpretations, or discussions about the original material. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that evaluate or discuss others’ original research.

How do I find Primary Sources?

You can search collections of digitized primary sources using the links on this page and on other Research by Subject Guides (for example, the research guide for History).  Many archives, museums, and libraries are also making their collections of digitized sources available online. 

You can also use WorldCat to look for published diaries, letters, and other primary source texts.  Some useful search terms are:  "sources," "diaries," "correspondence," "letters," "personal narratives," "interviews," and "pamphlets." 


How Should I Interpret Primary Sources?

Primary sources, such as diaries, manuscripts, maps, images, drawings, memoirs, are created by those who participated in or witnessed past events.  They help provide the tools and evidence to interpret the past.

Reading and evaluating primary source materials helps us understand an author’s interpretation of past events, based on his or her own opinions and biases.  

Although the content, context, and usefulness of a primary source varies from one instance to the next, there are a number of questions that you should consider as you are evaluating a primary source:

  • What is the tone?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the publication?
  • What assumptions does the author make?
  • What are the bases of the author's conclusions?
  • Does the author agree or disagree with other authors of the subject?
  • Does the content agree with what you know or have learned about the issue?
  • Where was the source made? (questions of systemic bias)
Keep in mind that primary sources may be fragmented and difficult to interpret; do not be afraid to ask for assistance from a librarian or your professor.

Image Credits