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POSC 275: Black Radical Political Thought, 1919-1969

Professor Aam Le - Winter 2024

Primary Sources and Secondary Sources

Primary sources: are the original writings, artifacts or phenomena that scholars analyze in order to produce insight.

  • Personal journals, diaries, and memoirs.
  • Speeches.
  • Government documents like hearings, committee reports, the Congressional Record.
  • Statistics, opinion polls, data.
  • Oral histories and interviews.
  • Photographs and films.
  • Posters and street art.
  • Pamphlets and other ephemera.


Secondary sources: are the publications in which scholars present their analysis, insights, and claims. On occasion, things that were originally published as secondary sources can be analyzed by future scholars as primary artifacts about what scholarship was like at the time of the original publication. In this way, some secondary scholarship can sometimes be considered a primary source, and how you categorize them depends on how you're using them in your work.

Search Strategies

Just like there's no single definition of "primary source," there isn't one way to search for them. Some tips:

  • The library subscribes to a number of databases containing primary sources. You can identify these by going to the databases tab from the library home page, and searching databases by content.
  • Many books in the library will contain primary sources: collections of documents, interviews, memoirs. You can use the "genre" filter from Catalyst to hone in on the kind of material you want or even try using it in a search, e.g. "Vietnam oral histories".
  • Often you can find digital archives of papers and other primary sources. Try uncovering these through a Google search (using the terms "digital archives, digitized, archives" etc. or by following other scholars' citations.
  • Use the literature that you have to identify sources. If you find a scholarly article helpful on your topic, what evidence did they use and how did they access it? Oftentimes, scholars will reference an archive or source.
  • You can always reach out to your librarian for help identifying primary sources for your topic. 

Primary source databases


Video Collections