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Stony Brook University

Primary Sources: Home

A Guide to Primary Sources at Stony Brook University Libraries

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide compelling evidence of history at the time they were created.

A diary entry - a photograph - a map - newspaper article - an artistic sketch - a text message - a tweet - if the information provides a first-hand account or documentation of an experience at the time it happened, it is a primary source.

There is a diverse range of genres, content, and formats in which primary sources are represented.

For example, an 18th century memoir in original book format and an Instagram post uploaded a minute ago in digital format are both primary sources. 

Artifacts and specimens, or items found near primary sources such as tools, specimens and plant-based materials also fall within the scope of primary source evidence. 

More examples: textual or written works such as letters and manuscripts; books written at the time under study; interviews and concert performances; digital satellite maps; nontextual works (paintings, photographs); fossils; jewelry; and social media communications.

Primary sources are different from secondary sources, which are written later and usually comment on or analyze historic events or original documents.

Primary Sources at Stony Brook University

To find primary sources at Stony Brook, access the collections of the University Libraries, including Special Collections and University Archives.

In our new discovery catalog named "SEARCH," you can include specific words in your searches that will help to limit results to primary source material. 

A effective, general word to include in your searches is sources.

For example, if you were looking for primary sources about civil rights in New York, you could perform a "keyword" search: "civil rights" and "New York" and sources. Other words to include are:

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Personal narratives

Library Subject Guides

Browse the Library's Subject Guides for information on specific research topics or contact a Library Subject Specialist for assistance.

Director and Librarian

Kristen J. Nyitray's picture
Kristen J. Nyitray
Director, Special Collections & University Archives
University Archivist
Associate Librarian
E-2320, Melville Library
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-3323
t: 631.632.7119
f: 631.632.1829

Example of a Primary Source: Letter

Letter authored by George Clinton,
first governor of New York, to Thomas Jefferson,
dated February 21, 1793.