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Elkins: GSTR 210 (Spring 2021)

Primary works

Primary sources in the Humanities (history, literature, religion) focus on original documents or accounts contemporary to a specific event or an individual’s life. Terms such as “eyewitness” or “firsthand” are also commonly used to describe these sources. Autobiographical accounts written at a later date are also considered primary sources. Letters, diaries, journal entries, public records as well as contemporaneous newspapers articles offer solid examples of this type of primary source. Fictional works such as short stories or novels written during that specific time period constitute primary documents, too.

In the Arts (art, dance, music, theatre) primary sources are as diverse as the various disciplines in the category. They may include paintings, sculpture, prints, performances, video or audio recordings, scripts, or musical scores.

Examples include:

  • Diaries or journals (published or unpublished)
  • Letters, correspondence or other personal communications
  • Public documents such as deeds, marriages license or certificates
  • Newspapers and weekly newsmagazines (offering contemporaneous reporting of events)
  • Radio and television transcripts and wire reports
  • Speeches in print or audio formats
  • Court cases
  • Legislative reports, bills and laws
  • Census data
  • Government Documents
  • Maps
  • Art works such as paintings, prints or photographs
  • Artifacts or specimens
  • Interviews or oral histories
  • Works of literature such as fiction, poetry or drama
  • Statistics including opinion polls
  • Sacred Scriptures

Where to search for primary sources:

Locating primary sources and documents in the library catalog

Primary source materials are part of the Hutchins Library collection of books, journals, magazines and databases. However, primary sources are seldom labeled as primary sources – this type of material must be combed out of the collection at large. This task is not always easy and can be time-consuming.

The Hutchins Libary catalog can facilitate the discovery of certain kinds of primary source material. Simply incorporate terms like as “papers,” “documents,” “sources,” “letters” or “personal narratives” into the catalog keyword and subject searches. An author search can sometimes produce primary sources as well (i.e. books written by the historical figure in question.) However, using the library catalog to effectively locate primary source materials may require a librarian’s assistance and expertise.

Possible KEYWORD searches

  • Slavery personal narratives
  • Vietnam interviews
  • Jefferson letters

Possible SUBJECT HEADING searches

  • Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975--Personal narratives
  • Coal miners--Virginia, Southwest--Interviews.
  • Speeches, addresses, etc., American

Possible AUTHOR searches

  • King, Martin Luther
  • Fee, John G.
  • Carter, Jimmy