United States History




United States History: Finding Primary Sources


Social Science Proseminar SOCS 497 – Prof. C. Srole
Holly Yu
JFK Memorial Library, CSULA

hyu3@calstatela.edu; (323) 343-4993


I. What are Primary Sources and Secondary Sources?

Primary Sources
Primary sources are the evidence left behind by participants or observers. 

"Primary sources originate in the time period that historians are studying.  They vary a great deal. They may include personal memoirs, government documents, transcripts of legal proceedings, oral histories and traditions, archaeological and biological evidence, and visual sources like paintings and photographs. " ( Storey, William Kelleher.  Writing History: A guide for Students. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p.18).

Secondary Sources
"Secondary works reflect on earlier times. Typically, they are books and articles by writers who are interpreting the events and primary sources that you are studying. Secondary works vary a great deal, from books by professional scholars to journalistic accounts.  Evaluate each secondary work on its own merits, particularly on how well it uses primary sources as evidence." ( Storey, William Kelleher.  Writing History: A guide for Students. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999, p.18-19).

To find secondary sources, look in library catalogs (for books and other monographs, or periodical databases, such as JSTOR, America: History & Life). 

II. The Formats of Primary Sources

The categories below are neither rigorously exclusive nor hierarchical. A single primary source may overlap one or more of these categories. Some material may have appeared in print before, edited or unedited.  For instance,  a manuscript may have been printed and published at some point as a book. " Nonetheless, these categories have proven to be practical concepts for organizing and describing the kinds of sources that document history, and secondary sources, such as bibliographies, often focus on materials in one of these formats or categories." ( Yale University Library Primary Sources Research, http://www.libary.yale.edu/ref/err/primsrcs.htm).



Format

Description
1. Printed or published text
  • Books and monographs

 

A monograph is "a systematic and complete treatise on a particular subject" (ALA glossary of library and information science, Chicago: ALA, 1983, p.48), in one or many volumes, complete at the time of publication or published with the intention of being completed at some future date.
  • Serials
    • Magazines and newspapers are periodicals of interest to general readers
    • Scholarly journals are publications that report the research of scholars and often quite discipline specific.
A serial is a publication that is usually published at regular, established intervals, with the intention of continuing publication indefinitely. Magazines and newspapers -- often offer the most immediate published accounts of and reactions to historical events. The important thing is to distinguish between material written at the time of an event as a kind of report, and material written much later, as historical analysis.
  • Government documents
Government documents are publications issued by federal, state, municipal and international governments. 
  • Records of organizations and agencies
The minutes, reports, correspondence, etc. of an organization or agency serve as an ongoing record of the activity and thinking of that organization or agency.  There are many kinds of records such as: births, deaths, marriages; permits and licenses issued; census data; etc. 
2. Manuscripts Manuscripts are unique documents, either hand-written or typed, varying in length from a single note or letter to a full-length book. Include among other things: personal papers, memoirs, autobiographies, correspondence, diaries, letters, artificial collections, etc.
3. Archives Archival documents may be either personal papers or institutional archives.
4. Visual Materials / Artifacts
  • Original art
single paintings, drawings, watercolors, sculpture, architectural drawings, and plans, monoprints
  •  Films
 
  •  Prints
graphic art, etchings, engravings, lithographs, woodcuts, mezzotints, posters, trade cards, artists' prints, and computer-generated graphics
  • Photographs
 
  • Physical objects
buildings, furniture, tools, appliances, household items, clothing, etc. 
6. Digital collections Digital collections may have been transferred from their original format to a machine-readable form or, may exist only as electronic resources. Data may be stored on disk, computer tape, CD-ROM or from Internet sites.


III. Strategies for Finding Primary Sources

1. Searching Primary Sources on Library Catalogs

  •  Using the Online Catalogs

    • Web-based CSULA Catalog
      /library/opac/catalog.html
      You can access the CSULA Online Library Catalog from the Library Web's main page at /library/
      The Cal State LA Library collection has wealth of resources for primary sources for historical research on wide variety of topics.  The Catalog allows you to conduct both basic and advanced searches, and also allows you to send search results to your email addresses. 

      • Searching by Subject
        In order to use the Catalog to find primary sources on a subject, you must first identify the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). To determine the appropriate subject headings associated with your topic you can: 

        A). Look in the four red volumes of the Library of Congress Subject Headings book located next to the Reference desk in Library North. 

        B). Look up the catalog record for a book that you already know about. Click on the subject displayed below the book status information, and do a redirect search.  

        C). Ask a librarian or library staff member at the reference desk. 

        Once you have identified the appropriate Library of Congress Subject Headings, you can pair that heading with specific subheadings that identify materials as primary sources. 

        Examples of the subject headings and subheadings are: 
        Subject Headings:  [name of country] - history - [time period] 
                                          e.g. united states history 1933-1945 or 
                                                  united states history
        Subheadings:         addresses
                                         correspondence
                                         diaries
                                         documents
                                         interviews
                                         periodicals
                                         personal narratives 
                                         sources

        You can append any of the subheadings listed above with a Library of Congress Subject Heading to specifically search for primary source materials.  keyword searching tends to be more effective with CSULA catalog. If you don't find results using subject search, try to do a keyword search using the same search term(s). 

      • Searching by Keywords
        Keyword or key phrase searching can be very effective.  Some keyword examples are: 
                                         great depression oral history
                                         labor history sources
                                         inaugural addresses 

Title Call# Location
100 key documents in American democracy E173 .A15 1994  North-2nd
Documents of American history E173 .C66 1958  North-2nd
America through the eyes of its people, Primary sources in American history E 173.A723 1997 North-2nd
The inaugural addresses of the presidents of the united States 1789-1985 E 173 I52 Oversize North-2nd
Major problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction : documents and essays E464 .M22 1991  North-2nd
  • WorldCat
    Provides catalog access to 38+ million holdings worldwide. Includes catalog records for books, journals, films, sound recordings, videos, etc.

    WorldCat is useful for locating books in nearby L.A. area libraries. You can access WorldCat via the Library Web's databases page at /library/mudir1.htm or click on Databases from the Library Web main page.

2. Using Periodical and Newspaper Indexes Covering the Time Period

Use periodical and newspaper index covering the time period of the events you're researching to identify contemporary accounts. These indexes are available in either print or on the Web. 

          Examples of search terms:  
          [Country adjective, e.g. American] periodicals--bibliography
 
          [Name of ethnic group] native american periodicals     
                                    

Title Call # Location
A history of early American Magazines 1741-1789 PN4877.R5 North-3rd
A history and bibliography of American magazines 1810-1820  PN4877 .E3  North-3rd
American newspapers, 1821-1936; a union list of files available in the United States and Canada Z6945 .A53  Palmer-4th Oversize
Extant collections of early Black newspapers : a research guide to the Black press, 1880-1915, with an index to the Boston guardian, 1902-1904 Z6944.N39 C357  Palmer-4th
Native American periodicals and newspapers, 1828-1982 : bibliography, publishing record, and holdings Z1209.2.U5 D36 1984  Palmer-4th
New York Times Index 1913- AI21 .N44  Reference North-1st
Nineteenth century readers' guide to periodical literature, 1890-1899, with supplementary indexing, 1900-1922. AI3 .R399  REFERENCE Table-1a
Readers' guide to periodical literature AI3 .R4  Reference North-1st; North-2nd
 

3.  Identifying Popular Fiction, Movies,  from the Time Period

To identify works of literature, films or popular fiction dealing with a particular event, you can consult one of the following print indexes:

  • Fiction Catalog
  • Short Story Index
  • Play Index
There are also handbooks and websites which can be used to identify films by theme and date such as:

4. Using Indexes to Government Documents 
Publications generated by a government body, public records, reports and statistics such as census records, laws, Supreme Court decisions and treaties, are excellent sources of primary materials. Go to the reference desk for assistance in locating government documents related to your topic. You can also search several indexes to government documents available on the Web from the Library Web's Government Info page (/sites/default/files/library/dbs/~gis.htm).  

5. Searching Primary Sources on the Web
Many Web sites contain excellent primary resources. Below is a list of web sites for primary historical sources, but is not intended to be comprehensive. You are encouraged to search the Web using search engines. 

To find a list of search engines to use, please check the Web Search Engines page at 
/library/startwww.htm

Examples of search terms:
                                                
united states history primary sources
                                                 great depression photographs
                                                 dust bowl interviews

Note: 

  • Please note that search engines only cover a section of the Internet
    Major search engines search less than one-half of all web pages.

  • Please note that more and more information is being lost to the invisible web
    Many web pages are database generated and are not searched by major search engines.
    For invisible web search assistance, go to the University of California, Berkeley Library The Invisible Web tutorial (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/InvisibleWeb.html)
    and Librarian's Index to the Internet  (http://www.lii.org/)

  • Make sure you are a critical consumer
    Anyone can publish a web page and make it accessible to the world.  Beware of bias, mistakes and outright fabrication.
    For help, go to the library's Evaluating Information on the World Wide Web (/sites/default/files/library/evaluatewww.htm).

1) General Primary Sources for American History

  • American Memory from the Library of Congress  http://memory.loc.gov/
    Consists of collections of primary source and archival material relating to American culture and history. Topics include: African American Civil War, Conservation Movement, Continental Congress, Farm Security Administration, Architectural History, Early Motion Pictures, Variety Stage, Woman Suffrage, the papers of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Today in History, Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present, and more.
  • American Memory Timeline  http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/features/timeline/
    Primary sources for seven time periods of United States history are provided at this site covering 1783-1968. Each period is subdivided into various topics and contains an overview. Included are images, letters, lyrics, interviews, and more.
  • American Treasures of the Library of Congress  http://lcweb.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/
    An unprecedented permanent exhibition of the rarest, most interesting or significant items relating to America's past.
  • A Chronology of US Historical Documents  http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/
    US historical documents arranged from pre-colonial era to present. 
  • Eighteenth-Century Studies  http://eserver.org/18th/
    Covers archives works of the eighteenth century from the perspectives of literary and cultural studies. Novels, plays, memoirs, treatises and poems of the period are kept here (in some cases, influential texts from before 1700 or after 1800 as well), along with modern criticism.
  • Historical Newspapers Online http://historynews.chadwyck.com/
    Historical Newspapers Online is a website that provides valuable reference material of nineteenth and twentieth century history. It contains some of the best news coverage across two centuries.
  • Making of America http://moa.umdl.umich.edu/
    Making of America (MOA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. The collection currently contains approximately 8,500 books and 50,000 journal articles with 19th century imprints. The project represents a major collaborative endeavor in preservation and electronic access to historical texts.
  • Nineteenth Century Documents Project http://www.furman.edu/~benson/docs/
    When completed this collection will include accurate transcriptions of many important and representative primary texts from nineteenth century American history, with special emphasis on those sources that shed light on sectional conflict and transformations in regional identity. 
  • Primary Source Collections
    http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/resources/inres/index.html
    A list of Internet Resources from American Memory web site. 

  • Repositories of Primary Sources http://www.uidaho.edu/special-collections/Other.Repositories.html
    This site contains links to "over 3,400 Web sites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar." Access is by region or by an alphabetical index of state, province, or country. "The list focuses on actual repositories; therefore virtual collections are excluded." There is also a list of other's lists of archives and repositories.

2) Visual Materials

  • America from the Great Depression to World War II  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html
    55,000 black and white (more coming) and 1600 color photographs from the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information collection have been digitized. Includes scenes of rural and small-town life, migrant labor, the effects of the Great Depression, and mobilization for World War II.  Part of the American Memory series from Library of Congress.

  • America's First Look into the Camera  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/daghtml/daghome.html
    Subtitled Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839 - 1864, this site is a searchable and browsable collection of more than 650 photographs taken between 1839 and 1864. The majority are portraits taken by the Mathew Brady studio. There are also photographic views of buildings and monuments in the Washington-Baltimore area and street scenes in Philadelphia. Part of American Memory from the Library of Congress. 
  • American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award97/mhsdhtml/aladhome.html
    This searchable or browsable "collection of approximately 2800 lantern slides represents an historical view of American buildings and landscapes built during the period 1850-1920." It includes the work of Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park. It also contains "views of cities, specific buildings, parks, estates and gardens, including a complete history of Boston's Park System." There are images of plans, maps, and models. From the Library of Congress' American Memory Project.
  • By the People, For the People  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaposters/wpahome.html
    Subtitled Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943, this searchable site contains over 900 posters from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Search by keyword or browse by subject or creator. Full descriptive information is provided. Created in silk-screen, lithograph, and woodcut mediums, they were "designed to publicize health and safety programs; cultural programs including art exhibitions, theatrical, and musical performances; travel and tourism; educational programs; and community activities in seventeen states and the District of Columbia."  From the Library of Congress' American Memory Project.
  • Internet Movie Database  http://us.imdb.com/
    The
    most comprehensive movie database on or off the Internet. It covers over 250,000 movies,  video, TV movies and TV shows, 500,000 actors, and 50,000 directors. Information includes filmographies for all professions in the industry; plot summaries; character names; movie ratings; running times; trivia; quotes etc..
    You can find a list of historical movies by using Browse--Facts & Trivia--Titles by year

3)  Oral History

  • Link Library (of personal experience pages)  http://www.justpublications.org/linklib/index.cgi
    An archive of primary source materials. Includes first-hand information as well as oral history resources and art projects based on people's experiences. 
  • Oral History Online! - http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/BANC/ROHO/ohonline/#collections
    These are the topics and some of the interviewees: Suffragists (Alice Paul), Disabled Persons Independence Movement (Hale Zukas); Health Care, Science, and Technology (Barbara Honeyman Heath Roll); University History Series (Arleigh Williams); University of California Black Alumni Series (Lionel Wilson); and the Earl Warren Oral History Project (Edmund G. Brown, Sr.). The searchable transcriptions are from the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

4) Biographical Resources

  • Lives, the Biography Resource - http://amillionlives.com/
    Extensive, annotated directory of links to sites that focus on the lives of individuals or groups of people, worthwhile collections of links to other biographical resources, primary biographical source material such as images, diaries, memoirs, correspondence, interviews, oral histories, etc., and good biographical dictionaries. There are special pages featuring African Americans, Women, U.S. Civil War, Holocaust Survivors and Rescuers, and Canadians. In addition there are indexes by collections, professions, eras, regions, and criticism, as well as by individual.

5) Public Records / Government Documents 

  • Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States
    http://www.nara.gov/guide/index.html
    This guide is based on a paper version with the same title compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al in 1995. This version incorporates descriptive information about federal records acquired by the National Archives after the 1995 paper edition went to press, and it is regularly updated to reflect new acquisitions of federal records.
  • National Archives and Records Administration http://www.nara.gov/
    Find holdings by federal government organization, media, location, and topics.
  • United States Historical Census Data  http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/census/
    The data presented here describe the people and the economy of the US for each state and county from 1790 to 1960.
  • Supreme Court Decisions on Lexis/Nexis 
    From the Library Web's Database page, select Lexis / Nexis. 
    Full text opinions of all Supreme Court cases since 1790. In addition, all dispositions of cases that were appealed to the Supreme Court are included.

6) Music

  • Historic American Sheet Music Project  http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/sheetmusic/
    Digitized images of over 3000 pieces of American sheet music from 1850 to 1920 are presented, along with their full-color cover art and advertisements, in this searchable index. Search for specific criteria such as subject or date, or browse by cover. From The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University.