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HIST 091: Senior Research Seminar (SC)

History 091: Senior Research Seminar (Azfar and Burke, Fall 2017)

Key Resources

Background research & finding primary sources

It's often easier to find primary sources by searching for something specific, rather than searching by topic.

You may not be able to find good primary sources by running keyword searches in JSTOR or Proquest. Instead, do a bit of background research on your topic first. You might be able to identify:

  • Names of important people --- leaders, artists, key advocates, critics or opponents, writers
  • Organizations that were involved --- community groups, institutions, government offices or agencies
  • Publications that covered your topic --- newspapers, magazines, trade publications -- could be popular or more specialized


Some basic background reading can help identify good primary sources.

For example, let's say you're interested in the US women's rights movement during the mid-20th century, particularly in the intersection of race and advocacy for women's rights as workers. You do some background reading, and:

A caveat:  This is (obviously) a 20th century example focused on United States history. So although this case offers one model of thinking about and finding primary sources, consider how your approach might vary depending on the time period, geography, and topic in which you're interested. To discuss this and get advice, reach out to Professor Azfar, Professor Burke, your advisor, and/or Sarah Elichko (librarian for history).

What kinds of primary sources will you use?

Primary sources can be split into 2 broad categories:

  • Sources in their original form
  • Sources that have been reproduced in some way

Working with primary sources in their original form often means visiting an institution dedicated to preserving those sources, such as an archive or a special collections library. --- for example: Urban Archives (at Temple University)

When working with primary sources that have been reproduced, you might read scanned copies of historical newspapers using an online database, or consult a print book from McCabe consisting of transcribed letters between historical figures.

Working with reproductions of sources:

When working with reproductions of primary sources, it's important to be aware of the fact that you're working with a reproduction. A digital scan of a letter gives you more detail than a transcription, but even a high-quality full-color scan is still different than a physical paper letter. Likewise, an edited collection of letters reflects editorial decision-making. These considerations don't mean that a scanned letter or an edited collection necessarily constitutes a "bad" source - just that these factors are worth keeping in mind as you analyze your sources.