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HIST 300 - Introduction to Historical Studies: Archival Collections and Primary Sources

Primary Sources LibGuide

Using the Primary Sources LibGuide will be one of your most helpful tools during this course.  The guide contains a wealth of information, including definitions, how to evaluate sources for credibility, and links to many library databases and web resources. While the lists are lengthy, they are by no means exhaustive.  Please click on the link below to open this guide.  

Primary Sources LibGuide 

Regional and State Archival Collections

Strategies for Finding Primary Sources

  • Use Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT) to generate more specific and useful results
  • Newspaper articles from the time period can be a good source of information

Use primary source terminology in your search.  Try the following words:  

  • documents
  • texts
  • sources
  • "primary sources"
  • "personal narratives"
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • "oral history" or "oral histories"
  • testimony

Using Archives - Helpful Hints

Researching in archives is very different from using a traditional library, and knowing some key guidelines will make your future archival research much easier.  

  • Making an appointment is almost always required.  Many archives are open limited hours, or have staff comprised mostly of volunteers, so it is important to phone ahead to make sure you'll have access to both the materials you need and help from an archivist.  In addition, talking to the archivist ahead of your visit will allow them to aid your research by suggesting additional collections that might also be helpful.  Remember, they are the experts of their collections!  
  • You will often be required to leave your personal belongings secured outside of the reading room.  Laptops are usually not restricted.    
  • No pens, markers, highlighters, food, or drink are allowed in reading rooms.  This is to protect unique, irreplaceable items from damage. 
  • Rules on scanning, photographing, or copying materials vary from archive to archive.  Some locations charge a fee, some will provide scans free of sure to ask up front about the archives policy.  Also, be aware that providing scans may not be an instantaneous process and you may have a delay in receiving your images.    

Your best resource is often the archivist, so it's good to get in the habit of calling and talking to them.  Archivists love nothing more than talking about their collections, so take advantage of that tendency!   

Search Strategies for Newspapers

Locating newspapers (print, microfilm, and electronic versions) in the library catalog can be quite challenging, and the catalog records for newspapers differ from books.  Some tips to try:

  1. Search for newspapers by TITLE.  (Example:  Spartanburg Herald Journal)
  2. Using the Advanced Search screen in Search, search by SUBJECT using the keyword "newspapers".  This will take several steps to narrow your search to specifically newspapers.
  3. Online availability of many titles is provided through the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website, which is linked automatically in the record.  
  4. Keep in mind that newspapers changed names frequently as ownership changed hands or papers were consolidated. There often will be separate catalog records for EACH title incarnation; within the record there will be an entry in the NOTE field which details the earlier title, if any, and at the very bottom of the record an entry will appear for "Continues as" or "Continues" for the next name change. 


What is Microfilm and Microfiche?

Microfilm and microfiche often contain resources that cannot be accessed using any other format.  They may include historical newspapers, primary sources, archival collections, and more.