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RHETORIC: I-Search Assignment

This guide was developed in collaboration with Rhetoric TA Kaden St. Onge during the spring 2022 semester. The guide provide process based guidance and resource suggestions to support students' I-Search paper research.

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts from people who have direct experience with a topic, event, or idea. Primary sources can be thought of as the "raw materials" historians use since they are unmediated by criticism, interpretation, or analysis, and they represent the concerns and ideas of the time they were created.

Some examples of primary sources: 

  • Newspaper articles covering an event 
  • Diaries, journal entries, ledgers, blog posts, or emails
  • Interviews or oral histories
  • Government documents
  • Art objects like paintings, posters, pamphlets, zines, photographs etc.
  • Films and other recordings
  • Personal items like clothing or household tools

Certain texts or items can sometimes be primary sources in one context but not another. For example, a history textbook is not usually a primary source, but it could be considered one for a research project on how a particular event has been taught in schools throughout time. One helpful way to approach this in your search is to think about when something would be considered a primary source rather than only if it could be one.

Source Types Compared

Table of primary, secondary, and tertiary source types

Choose a Primary Source

The following is a selected list of primary source collections. Some collections are freely available online. Resources marked with a padlock icon are available freely for UI students, faculty, and staff through UI Libraries' subscriptions. If you are off-campus you may be prompted to log-in using your HawkID and password through our UI Libraries' proxy server to access UI Libraries materials. 

Screenshot of UI Libraries' proxy server login page. Students, faculty, and staff need to enter hawkid and password to freely access UI Libraries materials.