The USC Libraries have numerous collections of primary sources in print, microfilm, and online. Additionally, there are hundreds of primary sources freely available on the Internet.
Be advised that primary source research is different from other forms of research. It can often be more time consuming due to several factors:
There is no single repository of primary sources
There is often limited metadata describing primary sources which means you will have to utilize terminology from the time period to locate relevant sources. This means you must determine the terminology from the time period before or during the search process.
Locally held primary source collections at USC (that have not been digitized) are stored in our off site storage library, which can take over a week to be brought to campus. Once they arrive you may then have to sift through numerous boxes/folders until you find the ones relevant to your topic/information need.
Don't let the time consuming nature of primary source research discourage you! Primary source research is incredibly rewarding, engaging and fun. Primary sources reveal the diverse nature of human experience, values, and attitudes while connecting you to the past in a way textbooks and second hand accounts cannot. They also have the potential of challenging accepted historical "truths," which in turn exposes the contingent and tentative nature of all historical interpretation. As you explore and examine primary sources you become the interpreter of history.
Image from: 16th century Fewelling Antiphonary manuscript
Some content adapted from: http://www.archives.gov/education/history-in-the-raw.html
Context is everything: distinguishing between the three types of sources (primary, secondary and tertiary) will vary according to context and situation. For example, if you are analyzing how African American history was depicted in middle school textbooks in the 1980s, then the textbooks would be considered a primary source rather than a tertiary one.
Primary sources vary by discipline: different disciplines define primary sources differently. This is because the artifact considered to be a primary or original source varies by discipline. For instance, in the sciences a primary source is one that describes or presents original research, experiments or discoveries. These are often published as journal articles, which in other disciplines are considered secondary sources.
|Art||creative artifacts: drawings, paintings, sculpture etc.|
|Music||sheet music, recordings|
|English||play, poem or novel|
|Political Science||treaties, congressional record|
|Sciences||report/article documenting an original experiment/study|
|Film/Television||script, video recording, film|
Some of this content adapted from: http://www.lib.vt.edu/help/research/primary-secondary-tertiary.html
Secondary Sources interpret and/or analyze primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources can be a useful way of discovering significant primary sources.
Tertiary Sources provide overviews of a topic and synthesize information from primary and secondary sources.
Tertiary sources are extremely useful as you begin to look for primary sources. You can use them to find important dates, people, organizations, locations and sometimes terminology from the time period. Once you have this information then you can begin your search for primary sources.
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