Chicago Style: Citing Primary Sources
The Chicago Manual of Style does not provide one prescriptive means by which to cite all primary sources. Thus, when you cite primary sources you need to consider carefully the type of source you are citing and the way in which you are accessing that source.
Sometimes, you would cite a primary source in the same way that you would cite a source written today. For example, there is no difference in citing a book or newspaper article written 100 years ago and one written last year.
However, often you will want to cite primary sources that have been reprinted in books or websites. When you do, it is essential that you make clear to your reader information about both the original source and the book, webpage, or archive from which you accessed it. In documenting the original source, you need to include who wrote the original source, what kind of source it is (diary, letter, memorandum, etc.), and the date the original source was written. When documenting how you accessed the source, you must provide publication information for a book, a URL for a website, or a location for an archive.
- Primary Sources Published in Edited Collections
- Primary Sources from the Web
- Primary Sources from Archival Collections
Primary Sources Published in Edited Collections
You may find valuable primary sources from the past published in modern edited collections. In this case, it is important to let your reader know the following information: 1) who wrote the original source 2) what kind of source it is (a letter, a diary passage, a newspaper article, a memorandum, etc. 3) when the source was originally written 4) information about the book in which the source was reprinted.
To find answers to these questions, you will need to look carefully at the edited collection. Some edited collections will provide a bibliographic entry for the original primary source at the beginning or end of the source. Other collections will incorporate this information into a written editor’s note preceding or following the source. Some sources will have all of the information you need to create a citation, while others may be missing an author or date.
Example 1: All information available
The following source, a memorandum written by a German government official contains all of the needed information:
1. Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, memorandum, September 1937, in Documents on Nazism, 1919-1945, ed. Jeremy Noakes and Geoffery Pridham (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 258.
2. von der Schulenburg, memorandum, 259.
von der Schulenburg, Fritz-Dietlof. Memorandum, September 1937. In Documents on Nazism, 1919-1945, edited by Jeremy Noakes and Geoffery Pridham, New York: Viking Press, 1974.
Example 2: Some information missing
You may also come across sources that do not have an author. For example, the following source, a piece of legislation passed in Germany as the Nazis were consolidating their power, does not have a particular author.
1. Law for the Re-establishment of the Civil Service, April 7, 1933, in Documents on Nazism, 1919-1945, ed. Jeremy Noakes and Geoffery Pridham (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 228.
2. Law for the Re-establishment of the Civil Service, 220.
Law for the Re-establishment of the Civil Service. April 7, 1933. In Documents on Nazism, 1919-1945, edited by Jeremy Noakes and Geoffery Pridham, New York: Viking Press, 1974.
Primary Sources from the Web
Many types of primary sources can be found on the web. These sources are cited differently depending on the type of source you are citing and the website from which you retrieved the source. In order to determine how to cite a primary source from the web, you need to consider the following questions: 1) Who wrote the original source? 2) What kind of source is it (a letter, a diary passage, a newspaper article, a memorandum etc.)? 3) When was the source originally written? 4) From what webpage did you access the source?
Example 1: Online Database - Newspaper article
For example, if you access a newspaper article published in the past using an online database, you would cite that source in the same way that you would a newspaper article written today.
1. Frances Balfour, “Women’s Place in the New Order,” Times (UK), 27 April 1921, http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&user...
2. Balfour, “Women’s Place in the New Order.”
Balfour, Frances. “Women’s Place in the New Order.” Times (UK), 27 April 1921. http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&user...
Example 2: Online Repository - Letter
If you access a source from an online repository, such as the National Archives or Canadian Mysteries, you would cite the source according to its type (letter, diary entry, article) but also add information about the website from which you accessed the source.
1. Alan H. Ross to Blodwen Davies, Letter, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, June 1, 1930, Canadian Mysteries, https://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/thomson/investigations/1918-1932/....
2. Ross to Blodwen Davies.
Ross, Alan. Alan H. Ross to Blodwen Davies, June 1, 1930. From Canadian Mysteries, https://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/thomson/investigations/1918-1932/....
Primary Sources from Archival Collections
For extended research projects, you may choose to visit an archive. When footnoting sources that you retrieved from archival collections, you need to provide information about the source you are citing (author, type of source, date) as well as how to locate that source within the archive, including information about the archival collection and the specific box and folder in which you found the source. In your first footnote to an archival collection, you should provide its full name and location. In later footnotes to sources from the same collection, you can use an abbreviated name and you do not need to include a location.
In your bibliography, you should provide information about the archival collection as a whole rather than including an entry for each specific source.
1. James Bridges, “Eyewitness,” script, first draft with revisions, 1977, 5, in box 22B, folder 17, Michael Douglas Papers, 1934-1980, Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research, Madison, WI (hereafter MDP).
Subsequent Footnote for this Source
2. Bridges, “Eyewitness,” 7.
Subsequent Footnotes to Other Sources from the Same Collection
3. Mike and Carol Gray, “The China Syndrome,” script, third draft, October 26, 1975, 60, copy in box 22B, folder 15, MDP.
Michael Douglas Papers. Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research, Madison, WI.
The following documents provide further or more information on how to cite archival collections: