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History 5.2: Introduction to the Modern Middle East: Primary Sources

Prof Zeynep Turkyilmaz


Given the breadth of reserach topics in History and the sources pertaining to those topics it isn't possible to create a single list of "primary sources" in history.

Instead this page provides a basic introduction to sources and some hints for beginning a search for them.

For specific courses at Dartmouth where I've been asked to prepare a "course guide" a selection of relevant primary sources is almost always included. See the TAB above labeled "Course Pages" for areas addressed.

Primary Sources


Historians rely on original or primary sources and the writings of other experts to formulate and support their scholarly arguments.
This part of the guide focuses on identifying and locating "primary" sources in and beyond the Dartmouth Library collection.

"Primary sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or as witnesses."
           Mary Lynn Rampolla. A Pocket Guide to Writing History
, Fifth Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007. p.6

Examples of primary sources include:

* Official documents, reports, records, and publications
* Letters, correspodence, diaries, memoirs, or published writings
* Newspaper or magazine articles or advertisements
* Speeches
* Autobiographies
* Statistical data
* Oral or transcribed interviews
* Films, images, or artifacts

The terms above as well as library subject heading language, e.g. "sources," and "personal narratives," will help identify original sources in library catalogs.

Primary sources may appear in any one of several formats:
* In their original form, i.e. newspapers, magazines, personal papers, etc.
* Photographed on microilm or microfiche
* Digitized, in a growing number of collections, e.g. America's Historical Newspapers
* Transcribed and published as a single volume or in multiple volumes, e.g Stalin's Correspondence with Churchill, Attlee, Roosevelt, and Truman, 1941-1945 (1v., 1958)
* Excerpted in a secondary source

"Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources"

A guide and explanation from the University of Maryland Libraries.


Reference sources may contain citations to repositories of papers or other primary material. The American National Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are good examples of such sources.

Bibliographies in scholarly books often arrange sources consulted by type. The language may vary but the arrangement is clear - primary and secondary, published and unpublished, manuscripts, letters, papers, archives, etc.

Footnotes in books and journal articles may refer to contemporary publications or other primary materials.

The Library Catalog

Library Catalog

The library acquires collections of papers, documents, reports, etc. of individuals, organizations and governments to supplement the library's holdings. These collections may be in print, microform, or digital format.

To find “primary” material in the Library Catalog there are a few keywords that are relevant:

KEYWORD search:
“your term here” AND  sources
                                    document or documents
                                    memoir  or memoirs
                                    personal narratives
                                    biography or autobiography