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Primary & Secondary Sources

This guide will help you learn the difference between primary and secondary sources in various subject areas and provides resources for locating primary sources, both in the library and on the open web.

Fresno State Library Resources

Primary source material can often be found in books. Photographs, reprinted speeches, images of original artwork or collections of letters are all examples of primary sources that can be located within books. Here are a few tips for searching for books with primary source material using our library catalog

Authors will sometimes gather important documents on a topic and publish them as a sourcebook.   These may be found by adding the term "sources" to a search for a subject (e.g. Cherokee Indians Sources):


Personal writings (letters, memoirs, autobiographies, etc) are a primary source. To locate these materials, enter your topic keyword and add any one of the following: memoir* or autobiograph* or diar* or letters or correspondence or speech* or sermon* or papers (adding a * to diar* searches for both diary and diaries): 

If you have any questions or need help locating a book on your topic, please contact a librarian

Examples of Books Containing Primary Source Material:

The library offers many databases which are accessible to you if you have a Fresno State email and password. Some of these include primary source material. Click on the links below to learn more about each database.

Early American Newspapers, Series I, 1690-1876 Early American Newspapers, Series 1, 1690-1876 offers 350,000 fully searchable issues from over 710 historical American newspapers. Focuses largely on the 18th and early 19th centuries.

New York Times 1851-1993 Find full-text PDF articles from this searchable database.

American Periodicals Series Search a selection of periodicals that first began publishing between 1740 and 1900, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children's and women's magazines, and many other historically-significant periodicals.

American History in Video Includes approximately 1,000 hours of newsreels from the late 1890s to the 1980s. Beginning with the Spanish American War, the early films provide documentary footage of actual people, places, and events together with interviews and other broadcast content from the period.

ARTstor Provides curated collections of art images and associated data for noncommercial and scholarly, non-profit educational use. Includes digital images and associated catalog data, tools to make active use of those images.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set (1817- 1994)  Primary historical source materials documenting the political, social and economic development of our nation. The reports are usually from congressional committees dealing with proposed legislation and issues under investigation. The documents include all other papers ordered printed by the House or Senate. Documents cover a wide variety of topics and may include reports of executive departments and independent organizations, reports of special investigations made for Congress, and annual reports of non-governmental organizations. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, executive-branch materials were also published in the Serial Set.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) Part 1 & 2 Consisting of every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom during the 18th century, along with thousands of important works from the Americas, Eighteenth Century Collections Online was the most ambitious single scholarly digitization project ever undertaken. Bearing witness to what many scholars consider the three most significant events in world history — The American Revolution, The French Revolution and The Industrial Revolution.

Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO) Parts 1-4 Focusing on primary source collections of the nineteenth century, NCCO comprises a variety of material types--monographs, newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, ephemera, maps, statistics, and more--in one cross-searchable location. Collections in this database include: British Politics and Society Asia and The West: Cultural Diplomacy and Exchange British Theatre, Music, Literature: High and Popular Culture The Corvey Collection of European Literature, 1790-1840


  • NCCO 1 -- British Politics and Society
  • NCCO 2 -- Asia and The West: Cultural Diplomacy and Exchange
  • NCCO 3 -- British Theatre, Music, Literature: High and Popular Culture
  • NCCO 4 -- The Corvey Collection of European Literature, 1790-1840

Artemis Primary Sources Search both the Nineteenth Century and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO & NCCO above) at once. Artemis provides access to the same content as ECCO and NCCO but with enhanced search functionality. 

Primary Sources on Microfilm

Early American Imprints, 1639-1800 (link to catalog record& Early American Imprints, 1801-1819 (link to catalog record) Based on Evan's American Bibliography and on Shaw-Shoemaker's American Bibliography. Contains the full text of all known existing books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in the United States (or British American colonies prior to Independence) from 1639 through 1819, some 72,000 titles.

Fresno State Library Special Collections

Special Collections Research Center The Special Collections Research Center is comprised of several specialized book collections, manuscript collections, the University Archives and the Central Valley Political Archive.

Digitized Collections The Library has developed Digitized Collections along with partners at Fresno State, and in the local community. Our Digitized Collections reflect the depth of the library collections as well as the creativity of the Fresno State community and the greater community of the Central Valley. 

Special Collections Research Center guide for Ethnic Studies Unique collections at Fresno State related to ethnic studies disciplines.

U.S. Historical Documents Guide to working with U.S. Historical Documents from the Fresno State Library

Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children's Literature The Center is one of North America's leading resources for the study of children's and young adult literature. The growing collection of 50,000 books, periodicals, manuscripts, original art, and papers of authors and illustrators, has an international and multicultural emphasis. Its materials are available to anyone for use in the Center's reading area.

Arne Nixon Center eCollections Currently includes the Leo Politi digital collection of inscriptions which contains scans of original artwork created by the award-winning children’s author and illustrator Leo Politi.