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Primary Source Guide  

Last Updated: Dec 13, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Examples of Primary Sources at UMass

Visual Materials

Includes photographs, films, paintings, and other types of artwork.

Location: Special Collections and University Archives Image Collection
Description: Massachusetts Agricultural College Campus Pond
Collection Title: Buildings & Grounds
Item # RG150-0006738

Published Documents

Includes books, magazines, newspapers, government documents, non-government reports, literature of all kinds, advertisements, maps, pamphlets, posters, laws, and court decisions.

Cover Art

Location: Five College Catalog

Jeddito 264; a report on the excavation of a Basket Maker III-Pueblo I site in northeastern Arizona - Daifuku, H. (Hiroshi)

Call Number: E51 .H337 v.33 no.1
Publication Date: 1961

Manuscripts and Archival Material

Includes personal letters, diaries, journals, wills, deeds, family Bibles containing family histories, school report cards, and many other sources. Unpublished business records such as correspondence, financial ledgers, information about customers, board meeting minutes, and research and development files also give clues about the past.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963. Miscegenation, 1936. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312).

Location: Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Digitized and available on Credo


Primary vs. Secondary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

  • Materials created during the time period being studied
    •  News articles, diaries
  • Materials created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied
    • Memoirs, interviews

Why use Primary Sources?

Primary sources reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer, enabling the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a historical event or time period.

What is a Secondary Source?

  • Materials that interpert or analyze historical events or phenomena
  • Generally at least one step removed from events in question
  • Often based on primary sources
    • Scholarly or populary books and/or articles, reference book, textbooks

Why use Secondary Sources?

Secondary sources can provide framing and background information, which can help you evaluate and contextualize primary sources.

Primary Sources in Print

  • UMass/Five College Catalog
    Use the catalog's Advanced Search features, and narrow your catalog search by date, author, format, or place of publication. Limiting publication dates will lose primary sources published or reprinted after they were originally written.
  • Special Collections and University Archives
    Search the UMarmot Catalog to locate manuscript and archival collections alphabetically or by keyword and subject.
  • Five College Archive & Manuscript Collections
    Search or browse finding aides to primary sources at the Five Colleges.
  • Library Microforms
    Contact the staff at the Reserves, Media & Miroforms Department to locate and retrieve primary sources that have been copied to mircofilm/microfiche.
  • WorldCat lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world. Most items can be borrowed through Interlibrary Loan.
  • ArchiveGrid
    From the creators of WorldCat, ArchiveGrid is a collection of over two million archival material descriptions. It provides access to detailed collection descriptions and contact information for the institutions where the collections are kept.

Subject Guide

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Jim Kelly
Contact Info
Research and Liaison Services
Room 01
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
(413) 545-3981
(413) 577-1536 (fax)
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Revision History

Guide revised by Kate Zdepski (2013)

© 2016 University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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