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The American Civil War: Primary Sources: Diaries, Letters, Memoirs, & Oral Histories

Primary Sources

Primary Sources are original sources: they were created by someone who participated in or observed an event.  They include diaries, newspapers, government documents, photographs, and other manuscripts.

A Guide for Finding Personal Texts

Personal texts--diaries, memoirs, letters, autobiographies, and papers--usually make excellent primary sources because they were written by a historical person you're studying.

Personal texts are scattered throughout the internet, in databases, and on the shelves of the UA Libraries.  Here are some techniques for locating diaries, letters, and other primary sources using Scout, Google, or Classic Catalog:

  • Combine keywords describing your subject with such words as sources, letters, speeches, writings, documents, diaries, papers, etc. For example, searching for “World War II ” and diaries will locate diaries written during World War II.
  • Search for key people as authors. For example, let us say that you are researching the European Discovery of America. Searching for Christopher Columbus as an author will locate journals and speeches of Columbus.  You can set your search to author in the "Basic Search" screen.
  • Find secondary sources on a historical figure in Scout. Scan the bibliographies of these secondary sources for diaries, memoirs, letters, and papers.

Memoirs at Gorgas Library

Finding Memoirs on WorldCat

Diaries & Letters

Oral Histories/Slave Narratives