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Stony Brook University

Primary Sources

A Guide to Primary Sources at Stony Brook University Libraries and more.


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.


Map of Suffolk County from An Atlas of the State of New YorkNew York: D.H. Burr, 1829. Source: Special Collections, SBU Libraries.

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.

Secondary sources, which are written later and usually comment on or analyze historic events or original documents, can support your arguments, findings, and points of view about primary sources. 


Geodesic Domes at Planting Fields, Oyster Bay, New York, c1961. The first campus of Stony Brook University.
Source: Photograph Collection, University Archives, SBU Libraries.

Locating Original Primary Sources at Stony Brook University

From 12th century illuminated manuscripts to historical maps of Long Island, primary source materials are available for research use throughout Stony Brook University Libraries.

When using SBU Libraries' discovery catalog "SEARCH," you can include specific words in the search bar that will help to limit results to primary sources. 

An effective word to include in your searches is "sources." 
For example, if you were seeking primary sources about civil rights in New York, you could enter the search:
"civil rights" and "New York" and sources.

Other words to include are:

  • correspondence.
  • diaries.
  • interviews.
  • personal narratives.