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MUSC 246: Music in Racism and Antiracism

Created for Professor Melinda Russell - Winter 2021

Locating primary source collections

Content Warning: Digitized primary sources often contain harmful language when referencing minoritized groups of people, and the search tools almost always require that researchers use the terminology of the original authors in order to bring back relevant search results. This can make the research process quite painful. Please feel free to reach out to me or your professor for assistance navigating this research process.

1) Keep in mind that you can almost never search for primary sources "about" your topic. Instead you'll find primary sources by searching for people, places, or things associated with the topic.

2) Explore the other primary source collections available from the library

3) Explore Google

More and more libraries and archives are making their materials accessible online. Finding these can be tricky, but here are a couple of strategies.

  • At the end of your google search, add the following:
    ("digital collection" OR "digital archive" OR "oral history")
    For example, here's a search for Apartheid. Many of the results are not for primary sources, but the likelihood of finding primary source collections goes way up this way.
  • Doing that same search, look at the Google Image results. Scan for results that look like digitized primary sources and see where those come from. Even if you don't see a source there that you want to use, you may find a collection that is useful to explore.
  • Play with Google's advance search "operators"

4) Watch the citations of books and articles on your topic to see what primary sources they reference and where those might be located.

Often this is an extremely effective way of finding primary source in any field. Start by finding and reading scholarship related to your research question and take careful note of the kinds of evidence those scholars used, and where they found that evidence. Then examine that evidence yourself or explore evidence from the same or a similar source.

5) Talk to your librarian! (But you knew that already)

Strategies for selecting a primary source

In general, selecting a primary source from a collection is a matter of exploration and imagination. It is very unlike finding a book or article, where those that reference the same concepts as you are generally relevant to your research. Here the two most common and effective strategies:

  • Identify a collection or a broad set of related items within a collection. Then browse through this group item by item to see which might be fruitful for analysis.
  • Read scholarship and look for the primary sources referenced in the analysis you read there.