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Special Collections: Research Guides to Primary Sources: Guides to Primary Sources in Special Collections

This guide will direct you to topic specific research guides that will help you find primary source material relevant to each of those subjects.

Research Guides By Subject/Topic/Historical Era.

UK Special Collections Location & Hours.

Special Collections specializes not only in collecting, preserving, and providing access to materials that document the social, cultural, economic, and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but also houses a wealth of material documenting the history of the United States as well as other nations. Materials include primary and secondary sources and exist in a variety of formats, including: oral histories, manuscripts, rare books, photographs, and moving images. Special Collections also maintains a records management program for all records generated by the University, thereby serving as the University's archival repository.


For tips on how to conduct research using primary sources, click here.



Reference Desk

Phone:   859.257.8611



The Special Collections Breckinridge Research Room is located in the M.I. King building on the second floor and is open:

Monday - Friday  10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.


When using the collections, please remember:

  • Most materials in Special Collections do not circulate. They are available for use in the Breckinridge Research Room.
  • Book bags, brief cases, purses, etc. are not permitted in the Research Room. Lockers for the secure storage of such items are provided free of charge.
  • No smoking, eating or drinking is permitted in the Research Room.
  • Only pencils are permitted in the Research Room.
  • Patrons must complete request forms and/or call slips when requesting material from the restricted, archival storage areas.
  • Material can be placed on reserve.
  • Access may be limited for fragile or rare materials. Photocopies or digital copies will be provided when possible. Digital photography is permitted.
  • Photocopying of rare books is prohibited.

What Is A Primary Source?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history.  They are the original documents or creative works generated in the time period under study. Often, but not always, primary sources contain or demonstrate the perspective of its creator as in, for example, a diary or letter. However, government documents and reports can be primary sources but fail to express an individual’s perspective. For example, the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals issues an annual report which contains rich data for someone researching coal production in a particular year, but it does not offer a personal perspective. Sometimes primary sources can be found on the Internet, often in the form of digitized historical documents and government records, such as the U.S. Census.

Other examples of primary sources:

Artifacts (clothing, furniture, tools, buildings, paintings, artwork)


First-person accounts (including newspaper accounts)

Government publications (statistics, court reports)

Historical documents including broadsides, last wills and testaments, posters, and maps

Lab reports

Draft copies of literary works




Correspondence (i.e., written or electronic letters, email)



Official government or corporate/business records or papers

Audio recordings (e.g., radio programs, speeches, oral histories, music)

Film/Video/Digital Visual Recordings

What Is A Secondary Source?

A secondary source of information is one that was created later by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in the events or conditions you’re researching. For the purposes of a historical research project, secondary sources are generally scholarly books and articles. Also included would be reference sources like encyclopedias. (Univ. of Illinois Library)