Skip to Main Content

HIST 4290: Enslavement in the Americas (Fuller/Spring 2020): Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are the raw materials of historical research - they are the documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation. Often they are created during the time period which is being studied (correspondence, diaries, newspapers, government documents, art) but they can also be produced later by eyewitnesses or participants (memoirs, oral histories). You may find primary sources in their original format (usually in an archive) or reproduced in a variety of ways: books, microfilm, digital, etc.

In contrast...

Secondary sources are interpretations of events written after an examination of primary sources and usually other secondary sources, such as books and journal articles.

When you write a research paper, you are creating a secondary source!

Searching for Digital Collections

Many libraries and organizations are making digital materials available online.

To find these collections, use a search string like this one in Google or another search engine:

digital collection library slave maroons*

You can also try the same search limiting to site:org rather than BUT:

Be careful!

  • .EDU = educational institution
  • .ORG = organization, which can mean almost ANY kind of noncorporate organization.

If you aren't familiar with the organization, do some research on it! Who are they? What do they promote? Are they reliable?‚Äč

*be sure to include the word "slave" with "maroons" to avoid having to weed out things like Loyola University's student paper, The Maroon....

The Power of Subject Terms

You can use Library of Congress subject terms (see Books and Articles tabs) to help you find primary sources.

- Primary-source books and other resources in GIL/GILFind (or any library catalog) will have subject terms in their records. Those subject terms may include words that signal "primary source," such as:

(image from

- Use other subject terms to help you identify other keywords/subject terms relevant to your topic.

Digital Collections @ GSU

Books Available Online

US Resources

National Libraries

National libraries may have relevant digital collections for your projects. 

To find other national libraries, do a Google search for "national library" (or "national archives") + the name of the country.

Ex.: "national library" Jamaica