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Research Using Primary Sources

This guide will clarify how to locate, access, and use primary sources, particularly at the University of Maryland.

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Credit Dorothy Joseph

WHAT is a primary source?

Primary sources arefirst hand information or data from witnesses or participants in past events. They can be in all kinds of formats, such as a letter, government document, photograph, pamphlet, or newspaper.

WHY should I use primary sources?

Primary sources provide direct evidence and information that can help us understand objects, people, places, and events from the past by drawing our own conclusions. 

WHERE can I find primary sources?

archives, special collections, and historical societies like the National Archives and Maryland Historical Society. On campus you can use Hornbake Library's Maryland Room, home to Special Collections and University Archives.

HOW do I find primary sources?

CATALOG: The library's main catalog includes many of the primary source material held at Hornbake Library. From the UMD Libraries homepage, use the dropdown box under "Library" to limit your search to "Maryland Room Collections, Hornbake Library". 

FINDING AIDS: A finding aid is an index of archival and manuscript collections. A finding aid can be a simple list of items, or a more complex document that puts materials in context by including information about the collection, such as a history or biographical note and a description of the arrangement of the collection. 

Many finding aids are online, though some are not, so its still a good idea to contact a librarian or curator before you visit. Search finding aids available at UMD. 

DIGITAL COLLECTIONS: Many institutions have made primary source material available online. A portion of UMD Libraries' special collections are available using Digital CollectionsContact us to find out how to use copyrighted material in your research.

WHO can I go to if I need help?

Email or visit us in Hornbake Library.

Wordle: Primary Sources - Keywords