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Stony Brook University

Primary Sources: Home

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources refer to documents or other items that provide first-hand, eyewitness accounts of events.
A newspaper article written at the time an event took place (Pearl Harbor, for example) is a primary source. Or a memoir and recollections by someone who was involved in an event, such as an interview with a woman who took part in the Civil Rights Movement.

Some examples of primary source materials are:

  • Printed texts, including books, newspapers, diaries, pamphlets, magazines, and journals
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Paintings
  • Artifacts
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs
  • Dissertations
  • Government documents

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

Example of a Primary Source: Photograph

Groundbreaking at SBU on April 8, 1960.

Example of a Primary Source: Photograph

  Jimi Hendrix performing at SBU in 1968.



Interlibrary Loan Services

The Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery Department supports the research and teaching needs of the Stony Brook University academic community by expanding the range of materials available for scholarship beyond the physical and electronic collections of the Stony Brook University Libraries. 
Interlibrary loan borrowing provides article delivery and short term loans of other materials from a worldwide network of libraries.  Document delivery provides book chapters and articles from the collections of SBU Libraries. There is no charge to users for either interlibrary loan or document delivery.

Primary Sources at Stony Brook University

To find primary sources at Stony Brook, access the collections of the University Libraries

You can include various words in your search that will help you locate primary source material.  A good general word to include would be sources.

For example, if you are looking for primary sources on slavery, you can do a "keyword" search for slavery and sources.

Also try these Library of Congress subject headings that are often used for primary sources:

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Personal narratives

Example of a Primary Source: Letter

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

Special Collections & University Archives at SBU

Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University select, acquire, preserve and provide access to rare, valuable, and scarce primary and secondary materials  in a variety of formats in support of the educational and research endeavors of Stony Brook University's students, faculty, and staff.

The department also extends its services to researchers in the wider geographic region, nationally, and internationally.The collection includes: books, manuscripts, and maps dating from the 17th century; the University Archives; audio/visual materials;  and a digital repository. All are welcome to explore the library's unique collections. For more information about the collections, visit the department's website.

Example of a Primary Source: Book

Book/memoir about the history of SBU by
Dr. Joel T. Rosenthal, Professor of History.


Chris Filstrup's picture
Chris Filstrup
Central Reading Room
Stony Brook University

Stony Brook, NY 11794

Department Head

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

Library Subject Guides

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