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HIST 177 - Gay Men and Lesbians in U.S. History (Unger): Primary Sources

Primary Sources



Book covers; Cover of the first issue of "The Empty Closet", one of the oldest, continuously published LGBT papers in the U.S.; Harvey Milk at Gay Pride San Jose, 1978 (; Newsweek magazine cover.

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)

Featured Source:

The Archives of Sexuality & Gender provides a robust  collection of primary sources for the historical study of sex, sexuality, and gender. it includes two Modules:   LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940, a collection of primary sources on social, political, health, and legal issues impacting LGBTQ communities around the word), and Sex and Sexuality 16th to 20th centuries, a collection of documents allowing scholars to examine how sexual norms and gender roles have changed over time.

You can browse the Collections or the list of Publications available., or   use the "Topic Finder" feature.  If you search by keywords, be sure to use  the Advanced Search mode to limit your search by date and types of materials.

Other Collections of Primary Sources at SCU

In addition to the Archives of Sexuality and Gender, featured above, the library subscribes to a few  databases of primary sources that could be useful for your research paper, depending on your topic.  

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.
Collection of primary documents and secondary sources related to U.S. women's history. Includes 63 document projects that interpret and present  more than 22,000 pages of documents,

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, here are some collections of primary sources you can find in OSCAR:

Documents of the LGBT Movement: Eyewitness to History

Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America

Gender Issues and Sexuality:  Essential Primary Sources

Letters to One:  Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s

Newspapers and Magazines

Articles from the time period of the events you are researching are also primary sources. The library subscribes to several collections of historical magazines and newspapers.  Others are available on the Web.  

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.

Independent Voices
A four-year project to digitize over one million pages from the magazines, journals, newsletters, and newspapers of the alternative press archives of participating libraries spanning the 1960's to the 1980's. Starting with collections by feminists and the GI press, the collection will grow to include small literary magazines, underground newspapers, LGBT periodicals, the minority press (Latino, Black and Native American) and the extreme right-wing press.

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 the present.

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

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


Bay Area Reporter, 1971-2005
Since 1971, the newsppaer of record for the San Francisco Bay Area Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community.

The Empty Closet, 1971-2015,
One of the oldest, continuously published LGBT newspaper in the U.S.


Primary Sources on the Web

Many primary sources have been digitized and made available on the web. You have to be careful, though, because often the source of the document is not provided.  You need to evaluate each web site carefully to determine if it is reliable.  In general, you can just add the words "primary sources" to your search to locate such documents on the web. The following sites are likely to be reliable and provide interesting sources  relevant to this class.  This is just a small sample of what's available.

Digital Transgender Archives (College of Holy Cross)
The purpose of this archive is to increase accessibility of transgender history by providing an online hub for digitized historical materials from around the world. The primary focus is on materials prior to 2000.

Lesbian Herstory Archives
Oral histories, videos, and documents from lesbian history.

LGBTQ Religious Archives Network
Oral histories or early LGBT religious leaders

Gay Activitsts Alliance - FBI Documents

GLBT Historical Society (San Francisco)
Available digital collections from the Society

HIV and AIDS, 30 years ago
Oral histories and other documents related to the cultural, social, and public health implications of HIV/AIDS

ACT UP Oral History Project
The ACT UP Oral History Project is a collection of interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York..

People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* History (Fordham University)
This website, started as a radio show in 2000, aims to share and preserve the music and history of LBGTQ music.