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Guidelines for Working with Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources offer a firsthand account of events, from the perspective of participants or eyewitnesses.  They can be found in a variety of formats, including the ones listed on this page.

Types of Primary Sources

Letter from Arthur Enyart to Alfred J. Hanna ‘17

Letters, Diaries, Interviews, and Autobiographies

Items documenting personal experiences, such as correspondence, journals, and memoirs.

The Rollins Bugler, 1937

Audiovisual Materials

Photographs, films, music, and art works connected to historic events, as well as maps and blueprints.

The First Rollins College Catalogue, 1885

Official Publications and Government Documents

Original records of an institution or organization, and publications produced by the U.S. Government.

Rollins Freshman Beanie, 1960

Artifacts and Memorabilia

Artifacts and Memorabilia including historic items, such as clothing, awards, and everyday objects. These include ephemera (items such as greeting cards, tickets, etc...that were originally created for short-term use).

Examining Primary Sources

The following considerations may be useful when examining primary sources:


  • Who created this material?
  • When was it created?
  • What was its purpose?
  • Who was the intended audience?

Historical Context

  • Which historical events were taking place during at the time this item was created?
  • How did historical events influence the creation of this item?


  • What ideas are being conveyed?
  • How are these ideas being conveyed?
  • How reliable is the creator? Is there evidence of bias?

Finding Primary Sources

Artifacts and Print Materials

Historic items from the Rollins Archives are a rich source of primary documents, including correspondence, official publications, government documents, photos, maps, blueprints, and more. Archival collections are searchable online in the Archival Collections Database.

Digital Materials

Digitized Archival holdings, including maps and photographs, may be explored online Rollins Digital Collections.

Olin Library also provides access to databases containing primary source documents, such as the following:

For more information about primary source databases, please contact your librarian.

Citing Primary Sources

The following guides are available for citing archival materials consulted for papers, projects, and publications. If you need additional help with citations, you can ask a librarian or meet with someone in the Tutoring and Writing Center.