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What is a primary source?
Primary sources are the raw material upon which critical, analytic, and historic studies are based. These sources are the evidence left behind by participants or observers. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to the truth of what actually happened during an historical event or time period. Here are some examples of primary sources: Original works of an author, illustrator, artist, photographer, songwriter, etc.
||Ledgers, Account Books, Bills
||Oral History Tapes
How do I find primary sources in the Goucher College Library?
In Special Collections and Archives
There are many wonderful primary sources right in our own Special Collections and Archives. The Special Collections and Archives reading room is on the upper level of the Athenaeum and is open to researchers 10 am – 4 pm, Monday through Friday, except for campus holidays. Other research times are available by appointment. Contact Special Collections Librarian and College at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-337-6075.
In Books and Manuscripts: search the online catalog
Search by Author to find original writings of a person, or documents published by a government or organization.
Search by Keyword or Library of Congress Subject Headings.
Primary sources will be found in books with one or more of the following subject heading subdivisions:
||--songs and music
||--caricatures and cartoons
Most databases will contain some primary sources. The following databases are recommended when looking for specific types of primary resources.
American Periodical Series This link opens in a new window
Full text of over 1,100 historically significant periodicals that began publishing between 1740 and 1900,
America's Historical Newspapers, 1690-1900
Full text articles from early American newspapers; searchable by presidential era, place of publication, language, and type of article, such as editorial, advertisements, birth and death notices, and cartoons.
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
Allows you to search and view newspaper pages from 1860-1922 and find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present.
Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers
Features full-text and images from numerous newspapers from a range of urban and rural regions throughout the U.S. from the 19th century. Strong coverage of the American Civil War, African-American culture and history, Western migration and Antebellum-era life..
The electronic version of Harper’s Weekly, America's leading 19th century illustrated newspaper.
JSTOR Ebooks and Journals This link opens in a new window
Full text scholarly articles and ebooks in all disciplines.
Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922 This link opens in a new window
Full-text of pamphlets, broadsides, advertisements, letters, slave narratives, and other literature by and about African Americans from 1535 to 1922.
Documenting the American South
Digitized primary materials that offer Southern perspectives on American history and culture. Sponsored by the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Early American Imprints, Series I and II This link opens in a new window
Full-text of virtually every book, pamphlet and broadside published in America from 1639 to 1819. Includes almanacs, cookbooks, diaries, textbooks, advertisements, contracts, charters, legislation, treaties, poems, songs, plays, the Bible, sermons, eulogies, and much more.
Jim Crow Museum (Ferris State University)
This is an excellent resource, a comprehensive and engaging museum which opened in 2012. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls Dr. David Pilgrim, the founder and curator, his hero. The website alone provides extensive insight into the multiple types of negative imagery that not only permeated US culture during the Jim Crow era, but have resurfaced due to market demand in today's culture of heightened fear and intolerance.
How do I find primary sources in other places?
In Books and Manuscripts:
Search the Web
Numerous full text literary works are freely available on the web. Particularly valuable is Google Book Search
which points to hundreds of thousands of public domain books that may be downloaded as PDF copies. One may limit one's search from Google's Advanced Book Search
to only those titles that are full-text.
Search the collections of other libraries:
- Look in bibliographies and compilations, such as:
American diary literature, 1620-1799 / by Steven E. Kagle. In the library: Main Collection 810.9 K11a
Oral history in Maryland : a directory/ compiled by Betty McKeever Key. In the library: 907.2 K44o
In Newspapers and Journals
- Digital Maryland Digital Maryland is a collaborative, statewide digitization program headquartered at the Enoch Pratt Free Library/State Library Resource Center in Baltimore. Its mission is to facilitate the digitization and digital exhibition of the historical and cultural documents, images, audio and video held by Maryland institutions
- Constitute Project Currently Constitute includes the constitution that was in force in September of 2013 for nearly every independent state in the world.
- Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions. The series began in 1861 and now comprises more than 480 individual volumes.
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