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Primary sources are the raw materials of scholarship. What counts as a primary source often differs by discipline, however. In the field of history, primary sources are anything created during the time period under consideration: published books; unpublished letters; photographs or drawings; music or song lyrics; clothing; objects of everyday life; etc. In the field of religious studies, primary sources can be anything from sacred texts to rituals, with lots in between.
Academic libraries and historical museums often try to digitize primary source collections held in their archives and special collections in order to make them available to the widest possible audience.
Advocacy websites are themselves rich collections of primary source material. You can use the structure of the entire site as a primary source, or select particular elements within it to analyze. A few examples are listed below:
From the website: "Global Voices is an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists."
Strategies for Identifying Primary Sources
- Look for especially intriguing primary sources--ones which, upon close reading, will elicit interesting questions.
- Identify the type(s) of primary source materials you think you may wish to gather. Do you want to use images (if so, what kinds?), texts (if so, what kinds?), multimedia (if so, what kinds?).
- Follow the footnotes in other sources you read; what primary sources are others citing?
- For larger research projects, aim for a variety of primary source materials that will provide multiple perspectives on your topic. In practice, this means using a variety of search strategies and more than one repository or database.
To start, try searching these Library of Congress subject headings in Primo, then use the facets on the right of the results page to explore different types of materials.
Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp.
Prisoners of war -- Cuba -- Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
ARTstor This link opens in a new window
A digital library of images in the areas of art, architecture, the humanities, and social sciences, with a set of tools to view, present, and manage images.
The Wayback Machine
The Internet Archive runs the Wayback Machine, which is an archive of over 660 billion snapshots of websites over time. If the URL to a primary source in your reading no longer works, try plugging it in to the WayBack Machine!
Newspaper & Legal Sources
The following full-text newspaper databases will let you access local, national, and international news sources.
Access World News This link opens in a new window
Find global information on topics related to business and economics, the environment, global issues, health, international studies, literature, performing and fine arts, politics and government, science, social issues, technology and more from a variety of news media featuring newspapers, videos and web-only content.
Nexis Uni (formerly LexisNexis Academic) This link opens in a new window
Access to news, business, governmental and legal sources.
New York Times (ProQuest) This link opens in a new window
Includes The New York Times; Late Edition (East Coast), New York Times Magazine, and New York Times Book Review.
Readers’ Guide Full Text Mega This link opens in a new window
Includes indexing as far back as 1983 and searchable full text of articles as far back as 1994. Provides access to illustrations, photographs and other graphical content from the original article. Subject coverage is multidisciplinary.
Ethnic NewsWatch This link opens in a new window
Focus is on ethnic area studies, and related arts, business, education, environment, history, journalism, political science and sociology news. Some Spanish language sources are available.
Alt-PressWatch This link opens in a new window
A full text database comprised of articles from alternative and independent press newspapers, magazines and journals.