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HIST 176: Celebrity & Politics: U.S. From the 1980s to the Present (Gudgeirsson): Primary Sources

Primary Sources


Credits:  Balck Panther Party publication fromThe Freedom Archive; Woodstock Album Cover 1970; Book Cover; Summer of Love photograph (Flicker)

What is a primary source?

What Are Primary Sources:

"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."
(American Library Association, Reference and User Services, History Section)

Still not sure about the difference between primary and secondary sources? Watch this video:

How to Analyze a Primary Source

Here's a helpful guide (from Carleton College) to help you understand and interpret your primary sources:

How to Analyze a Primary Source

Finding Primary Sources

Using OSCAR to find Primary Sources:

You can  use the library online catalog, OSCAR, to find  published primary sources or books including primary documents    If you are interesting in the writings of a specific individual, just do an author search.  If you are looking for primary sources on a specific topic, just enter your keywords and add one of the following words, depending on what you are looking for:  correspondence, papers, speeches, memoirs, personal narratives, documents, sources.  
For example: Ronald Reagan and Documents
                      September 11 and sources

Here are some collection of primary sources you can find in OSCAR:

Presidents from Reagan through Clinton, 1981-2001: Debating the Issues in Pro and Con Primary Documents

Presidents and Black America: A Documentary History

The Columbia Documentary History of American Women since 1941

9/11 and the War on Terror:  A Documentary and Resource Guides

Databases and Collections of Primary Sources

Oxford African American Studies Center

Provides access to more than 7,500 articles focusing on African American history and culture.  The articles come from major reference sources and are written by leading scholars in the field.  Also includes primary sources, images, and maps.  After you do a search, click on the "Primary Sources" tab.

Black Studies Center
A fully cross searchable gateway to Black Studies including scholarly essays, recent periodicals, historical newspaper articles, images, and videos. 

Women and Social Movements in the U.S.

Newspapers and Magazines

Articles from the time period of the events you are researching are also primary sources.  If you are researching a topic related to the British Empire, you may wnat to look at the following newspaper archives:

Opinions Archives
Provides access to the complete archives of 17 leading journals of opinion, including Dissent, Commentary, Harper's, National Review, The New Yorker, and The New Republic.

Readers' Guide Full-Text : This database provides indexing and abstracting of over 300 popular magazines from 1983 to date, with full text from over 150 publications back to 1994.

Readers' Guide Retrospective, 1890-1982 : Indexes more than 3 million articles from about 370 general interest, popular, news, and even a few scholarly, English language magazines and journals published between 1890 and 1982

New York Times Archives : Full text of The New York Times newspaper from 1851–2003. The full-text of more current articles is available via LexisNexis Academic.

Los Angeles times Archives: Full text of the Los Angeles Times newspaper from 1881 to 1987.

San Francisco Chronicle Archives:  Full text of the San Francisco Chronicle from 1869 to 1984

Chicago Defender:  Full text of the Chicago Defender newspaper from 1910 to 1975

Washington Post Archives: Full Text of the Washington Post newspaper from 1877 to 1993

Primary Sources on the Web

Primary Sources on the Web

Many primary sources have been digitized and made available on the web.  The easiest way to locate them is to do a Google search and add the words:  archives or "primary sources"

Example:   September 11 and archives
                   September 11 and primary sources

Of course you need to be careful with eveything you find on the web.  Check carefully who is responsible for the site and where the information is coming from.  In addition you need make sure the site provides the source for the primary document. 

The following sites are examples of what you can find on the web.

Digital History Reader:  US History (Provides materials covering important themes and issues from the colonial era to the present. Click on the "evidence" link within each module to view primary source material)

American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Library of Congress Digital Collections

The September 11 Digital Archive

AIDS Oral History Project

ACT UP Oral History Project