How To Do Library Research

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Finding Historical Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources  "were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs).  They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer.  Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period." (UC Berkeley Libraries)

Primary sources can include a variety of materials, including biographies and memories; videos and documentaries that capture news footage or an event; or newspapers and magazine articles published during the time period.

Historical Primary Sources at Binghamton University Libraries



Primary Sources in the Sciences

Primary sources in the sciences, and some social sciences, report original research, ideas, or scientific discoveries for the first time.   Primary sources in the sciences may also be referred to as primary research, primary articles, or research studies.  Examples include research studies or scientific experiements, papers and proceedings from scientific conferences or meetings, dissertations and theses, technical reports, and patents.  Following are some characteristics of scientific primary sources:

  • They report results/findings/data from experiments or research studies.

  • They do not include meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews.  These are secondary sources.

  • They should explain the research methodology used and frequently include methods, results, and discussion sections.

  • They are factual, not interpretive.

NOTE: Finding primary sources in the history of science or medicine is the same as finding historical primary sources.  The course guide for "History of Medicine" is a great place to start your research.

Finding Scientific Primary Sources at Binghamton University Libraries

Following are just a few databases to help you find primary research in the sciences.  Many databases offer an advanced search feature, or a search limiter, which allows you to limit your results by publication type or research methodology.