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Finding Primary Sources

A guide to finding primary sources for History research.

Citing Primary Sources

Citing primary sources can be difficult, especially when you are using a source that has been digitized or reproduced on a website.  Obviously, a letter from 1652 that you see online is not the real thing!  So how do you cite it in your paper? 

In the bibliography or works cited page:

  • Remember that Primary Sources should be separated from Secondary Sources in your bibliography. See the Handbook for Historians to get correct bibliography formats.

In your footnotes or endnotes:

The Handbook for Historians section citing sources suggests citing a primary source within your footnotes as follows:

Primary source document found online. (Use this format when using approved websites containing primary source material.)  Include as many of the following elements as are available.

Format:

Author of original document, first name first, “Title of document,” Date of document, Title of Web Site where document is found, Author, Editor, or Producer of site, accessed date, URL.

Example:

46Sydney Smith, “Fallacies of Anti-Reformers,” 1824. Internet Modern History Sourcebook, Paul Halsall, ed., accessed 22 June 2011, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/smithantireform.html.

47Smith, “Fallacies of Anti-Reformers.”

48Thorstein Veblen, “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” 1899, Internet Modern History Sourcebook, Paul Halsall, ed., Accessed 22 June 2011, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1899veblen.html.

49Veblen, “Theory of the Leisure Class.”

Example (no author given):

50 “Codex Justinianus: Protection of Freewomen Married to Servile Husbands,” 530 A.D., Internet Medieval Source Book, ed. Paul Halsall, 25 February 2002, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/codexVIl-24-i.html, 17 March 2005.

51 “Codex Jusinianus.”

A Primary Source Quoted by a Second Source.

Note: It is preferable that the original source is consulted and cited on its own, but if the original source cannot be obtained, use this format.

Format:

Author of original source, first name first, Title (City of Publication: Publisher, year), page number, quoted in Author of secondary source, first name first, Title (City of Publication: Publisher, year), page number.

Example:

29 Hastings Ismay, The Memoirs of General Lord Ismay (New York: Viking, 1960), 199, quoted in James Holland, The Battle of Britain (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010), 476.

30 Ismay, The Memoirs, 210, quoted in Holland, The Battle, 480.