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History, Latin America *

Research strategies for researching historical topics related to Latin America, migration, and culture.

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or experience, created near the time of the event by someone who witnessed it. Primary sources can include:

  • photographs
  • historical newspapers
  • diaries
  • letters
  • video footage
  • oral histories

Searching for Primary Sources

Developing Keywords

To efficiently search for primary source, develop a running list of key terms, people, dates, and events related to your research topic. Include language that would be used at the time, even if we no longer use those terms today. Librarians and archivists will often use the same language reflected in a source to catalog the item.

Searching within Citations

A key strategy for locating primary sources, collections, and archives is to look at the references/bibliography of the secondary sources you encounter. This strategy is called "citation chaining." 

Historical and Outdated Temrminology

Primary source research may require you to search with harmful or outdated terminology. You may also encounter these terms as you are reading primary sources. Even though you may encounter this language, it is important to reflect on how/if you replicate this language in your own writing.

Why is there harmful or outdated language in sources?

  • Some items reflect white supremacist and American imperialist ideologies, which include racist, sexist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes.
  • Librarians and archivists choose what language to use when describing materials. Some of these descriptions were written many years ago, using language that was accepted at the time.
  • Librarians and archivists often re-use language provided by creators or former owners of the material. This can provide important context, but can also reflect biases and prejudices.
  • Librarians and archivists often use a standardized set of terms, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, to describe materials.  Some of these terms are outdated, offensive, or insensitive.
  • Communities with less access to and privilege within libraries and archives have had less control over how they are represented and described.
  • Librarians and archivists sometimes make mistakes or use poor judgement.

From the Digital Public Library of America's Statement on Potentially Harmful Material