PRIMARY RESOURCES AND HOW TO USE THEM

Primary resources provide firsthand evidence of historical events. They are generally unpublished materials such as manuscripts, photographs, maps, artifacts, audio and video recordings, oral histories, postcards, and posters.
In some instances, published materials can also be viewed as primary materials for the period in which they were written (ex. historical newspapers). In contrast, secondary materials, such as textbooks, synthesize and interpret primary materials. On this page, you will find links that help you find primary resources and offer suggestions on how to use them.

Primary resources are obviously useful for teaching social studies, but can also be helpful in ELA, science, music, art...


The Minnesota Historical Society offers a fantastic video on the topic of primary v. secondary sources. By watching the short video students can learn what a makes a resource a primary or secondary source.

Great Places to Start:

  • ODE - Resources for Teaching the Historical Documents

  • Ancestry Library Edition (ProQuest) Research family history and find historical information using census data, government records, primary sources, images, and more. Recommended for grades 4-12. Access only available at school or at your local public library. See the Ancestry Library Edition Libguide for more help using this resource. Teachers and students can find thousands of primary source materials for projects. It’s not just for genealogy.
    • Civil War and Revolutionary War supply lists.
    • 6,900 Civil War photos.
    • World War I draft registration cards
    • World War II newsreels.
    • First person oral histories (including slave narratives).
    • Immigration records, ship logs, ship photos, and information.
    • Look up famous people; you never know what you might find!


  • National Archives and Records Administration has a site for teachers to help utilize and find appropriate primary sources. Also see:
    • Digital Vaults from the National Archive - database of some 1,200 documents, photographs, drawings, maps, and other materials and a keywording system that visually links records. The site has a special interactive resources section for educators and students. Teachers can get great ideas on lesson plans using reproducible primary sources. The Digital Vaults web site enables visitors to create posters, movies, and games.
      • Pathways Challenge - a series of clues reveal relationships between photographs, documents and other records. Use existing pathways, create new pathways for students or have students create their own.
    • DOCs Teach--National Archives - Turn your students into historians with primary-source based activities that develop historical thinking skills. Includes thousands of primary sources preserved at the National Archives.
    • Weekly (1995-2009) and Daily (2009-present) Compilation of Presidential Documents



Historic Newspapers and Magazines:



Other Resources:

  • American Slave Narratives - (very interesting) an online anthology from the University of Virginia From 1936 to 1938, over 2,300 former slaves from across the American South were interviewed by writers and journalists under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration. These former slaves, most born in the last years of the slave regime or during the Civil War, provided first-hand accounts of their experiences on plantations, in cities, and on small farms.
  • Ancestry.com, has opened its collection of historical documents to schools. AncestryK12 offers a no-cost program that includes access to content from Fold3 (military documents), Newspapers.com and the U.S. collection of Ancestry. Teachers apply through Ancestry K12 for access to its material.
  • Awesome Stories - uses interactive stories that allow visitors to analyze related primary sources and informational texts of various types. It offers access to high-quality links, videos, images, charts, and text. Most topics involve social studies, but it also has resources for ELA, STEM and the arts.
  • World History Sources is a website to help world history teachers and students locate, analyze, and learn from online primary sources and to further their understanding of the complex nature of world history, especially the issues of cultural contact and globalization.