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Family Tree

History/Primary Sources

Librarian: Ramirose Attebury
Phone:  (208) 885-2503
Research Assistance Program

In the discipline of history Primary Sources are items that were created during the time period under study. They allow researchers to get as close to their object of study as possible in spite of the passage of time. These items might be documents, news stories, letters, diaries, interviews, artifacts, government publications, photographs, or recordings. *The definition of primary source differs in other disciplines, so check with your instructor for specific details.*

In addition to the original items, digital versions of original items or reprints of original items are also considered primary sources.

University of Idaho Digital Collections

The University of Idaho Library has undertaken several major digitization projects in the past few years. Collections significant to Idaho or the university are now available electronically from the library’s website. Expand the list below or visit the Digital Collections website for more information.

Digital Collections at Other Institutions

Many other institutions have digital collections available. Here is a list of collections that have been favorably reviewed in library journals in the past two years. To find others related to your specific topic, try doing a Google search for your topic and the words “digital collection.”

University of Idaho Special Collections and Archives

The Special Collections and Archives at the library contain research materials that document the cultural and environmental history of Idaho. The collections include personal papers of individuals and families; business archives of lumber, railroad, mining, and other companies; Idaho state publications; papers of government officials, educators, authors, and business people; records of organizations such as religious, fraternal, civic, and environmental associations; and similar groups.

Materials can be located in the library’s catalog or by visiting special collections, either in person or online.

Finding Reprints of Primary Sources in Books

You can use the library’s catalog, World Cat Local, to find books that have primary sources reprinted in them. Include keywords or subject terms related to your topic. Add words like “sources,” “documents,” “correspondence,” “interviews,” personal narratives,” “speeches,” “pictorial works,” or “diaries.”

Government Documents

Governments produce a wide range of information: legislative hearings and debates, census data, scientific reports, records of expenditures, laws and regulations, statistical information, administrative and agency reports. This information is published in a wide range of formats: online databases, websites, microforms, books, CD-ROM, maps. As with digital collections,


Newspapers are considered primary sources if they contain first-hand accounts and were published at the time an event took place. Newspaper stories that occur after an event and/or contain second-hand accounts are considered primary sources.

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