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Citation and Writing: How to cite Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original documents that were used or created by someone with firsthand experience of an event.  Whenever possible, you should try and locate the primary source in its original format for your research.  If that is not possible, you may use a reprint of the primary source.  When you are using a primary source not in its original form, you must cite the primary source and how you accessed the primary source.  Below are several examples to help you cite primary sources.  For more citation examples, please look at the Chicago Citations Example document on the Chicago Style (CMS) Citation page.  

Primary Source in a Database (example from Ancient and Medieval History Online)


Author (if known). “Primary Source Title.” Database Name.

"The Coffin Texts (excerpt)." Ancient and Medieval History Online.



1. Author (if known), “Primary Source Title,” Database Name.

2. "The Coffin Texts (excerpt)," Ancient and Medieval History Online.

Paintings, Sculptures, and Photographs (printed in a book)


Author’s lastname, firstname. Book Title. City of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.

Getlein, Frank. Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints. New York: Abbeville Press, 1980.


1. Artist’s Firstname Lastname, Artwork Title, Year created, in author’s firstname lastname, Book Title (City of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), Page number.

2. Mary Cassatt, Two Children at the Seashore, 1884, in Frank Getlein, Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints (New York: Abbeville Press, 1980), 53.

Loeb Classical Library Online


Lastname, Firstname. Title. Translated by. City of publication: Publisher, Year of publication. Database Name.

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, Volume 1. Translated by C.F. Smith. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920. Loeb Classical Library.


1. Firstname Lastname, Title, trans. by (City of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), Page number, Database Name.

2. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Volume 1, trans. by C.F. Smith (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920), 350, Loeb Classical Library.