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Africana Studies

Great source of information for the multidisciplinary study of Africana Studies--includes African Nations and African Diaspora

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts, that serve as original evidence documenting a period, event, people, idea or work. 

Primary sources can be printed materials like books or newspapers, manuscript and archival materials like diaries and documents, artifacts, and audio/visual materials. Primary materials can be found in analog, digitized, and born-digital forms. 

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Memoirs, speeches, writings, correspondence
  • Papers of a political party, agency, or association
  • Official documents such as congressional hearings and reports
  • Contemporary magazine and newspaper articles
  • Contemporary art, films, literature, and music
  • Contemporary artifacts, such as buildings and monuments

Finding Primary Sources

When looking for primary sources, you need to consider:

  • Who would create the documents? Who would preserve the documents?
    • Who can be individuals or groups, such as local, regional, or international organizations, associations, and governmental agencies.
  • How would the documents be preserved and accessed? Would they have been
    • Formally published/produced, such as books, newspapers, magazines, films, music, court cases, etc.? You are likely to find these items in library databases.
    • Informally published/produced web documents, such as press releases, reports, policy statements, etc.? You may find recent documents through Google or the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine (going back to 1996). 
    • Personal or internal documents? If these materials were preserved, they may only be available through visiting private collections, library archives, museums, historical sites, or corporate/organization archives. A national library, public library, historical society, or university/college library may have digitized some of these materials. Interviews and oral histories produced as part of a scholarly research project are often only available from the researcher.

How to find primary sources in Catalyst

There is no way to limit search results to "primary sources" in Catalyst, but there are a couple of ways to identify primary sources on a results page if you know the type of primary sources you are searching for.

Using Catalyst's main search box:

  • Type in your keyword and hit search
  • On your results page, on the left-hand side, browse through "Material Types" and "genre/form."


Using Catalyst advanced search:

  • Using the Catalyst "advanced search," type in your keyword(s) and limit to "subject." 
  • In the second search box below, add additional terms such as "personal narratives," "memoirs," or "maps," depending on the type of primary source you are hoping to find.  Limit this second search box to "genre." 
Advanced Search