Skip to main content
What is a Primary Source?
Primary sources are critical to historians' work. They are often referred to as "history's first draft." Generally speaking, primary sources include:
- Original works of art, such as novels, paintings and photographs
- Eye-witness accounts of events, as often appear in newpaper articles
- Diaries, letters and other correspondence (yes, even tweets!)
The categorization of sources as primary, secondary and tertiary sources is a complex endeavor that has a lot to do with one's research purpose, discipline, and place in time relative to the source (historcal context). If you're interested in learning more, check out this tutorial.
Where to find Images & Primary Documents
Library of Congress
The library of congress is a rich source of historical images. You can browse thematic collections, or search for your topic. If searching be sure to limit (from the pull-down menu) to Photos, Prints & Drawings.
Try these web sites, which offer keyword searchable, high resolution images and other primary documents. Be sure to follow the protocol for citing images.
Described as a "world of primary sources," Calisphere is especially rich in images. As the name suggests, this resources focuses on California history.
San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection
If you're topic is of local interest, this is a good place to find images. Downloadable files are jpegs; higher resolution images must be ordered.
Flickr is full of images, but you'll want to go to advanced search and limit to "creative commons" items, since the photographers have granted permission for re-use.
National Museum of African American History & Culture
"The only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture."
Library & Learning Resources, City College of San Francisco
50 Phelan Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94112 (415) 452-5541