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Stony Brook University

HIS 411: Life Stories in Historical Context: PRIMARY SOURCES

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources refer to documents or other items that provide first-hand, eyewitness accounts of events.
A newspaper article written at the time an event took place (Pearl Harbor, for example) is a primary source. Or a memoir and recollections by someone who was involved in an event, such as an interview with a woman who took part in the Civil Rights Movement.

Some examples of primary source materials are:

  • Printed texts, including books, newspapers, diaries, pamphlets, magazines, and journals
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Paintings
  • Artifacts
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs
  • Dissertations
  • Government documents

Primary sources are different from secondary sources, which are written later and usually comment on or analyze historic events or original documents.

Finding Primary Sources

One of the best and easiest ways to find primary sources, is to look at a Bibliography or List of Works Cited in a book or article on your topic.

Another way is to use STARS, the Library Catalog. 

You can include various words in your search that will help you locate primary source material.  A good general word to include would be sources.

For example, if you are looking for primary sources on slavery, you can do a KEYWORD ANYWHERE search in STARS for salvery and sources.

Also try these Library of Congress subject headings that are often used for primary sources:

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Personal narratives

Access to Other Research Libraries

Through the University's membership in various Library consortiums, Stony Brook students, staff and faculty have access to, and/or borrowing privileges at, numerous other research libraries on Long Island, in the greater New York area, and throughout the U.S., Canada, and other countries.

Research Libraries Group (RLG)

The University Libraries' membership in the Research Libraries Group (RLG) consortium allows Stony Brook students, staff, and faculty with current ID cards to enter and use many major libraries in the United States, Canada and abroad.

In our geographical region, other libraries in the program include: Columbia, NYU, The New York Public Library, The New School, American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New-York Historical Society, Cornell, Princeton, Rutgers, The University of Pennsylvania, and Yale.

Full List of RLG Member Libraries

Stony Brook ID holders visiting these institutions may use materials; however, borrowing privileges are not usually available.

Students, staff, and faculty are urged to call ahead to a particular library, before actually going there, to confirm that they will be granted access at their time of arrival. Also, if they need to use a branch library within one of the participating library systems, it should be confirmed beforehand that the branch also takes part in the program and will allow access.

Long Island Library Resources Council (LILRC)

The Long Island Library Resources Council (LILRC) is a regional multi-type library organization serving academic, special, public, hospital and school libraries and library systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
 
The LILRC Research Loan Program (RLP), a reciprocal borrowing agreement between member libraries, allows Stony Brook students, staff and faculty to use and borrow material from numerous institutions on Long Island, including Adelphi University, Dowling College, Nassau and Suffolk Community Colleges, St. Joseph's College, Touro Law Center, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Nassau and Suffolk Public Library Systems.

Students, staff and faculty interested in borrowing material through the Research Loan Program must visit the Reference Desk in the Central Reading Room of Melville Library for an RLP pass.

Full List of LILRC Member Libraries

New York Public Library

Any person who lives, works, attends school or pays property taxes in New York State is eligible to receive a New York Public Library card free of charge. This gives researchers the opportunity to use important collections in the NYPL system, check out material, and access a wide array of useful electronic resources from on-site or, in a few cases, from home. See the NYPL web site for more information on getting a card.

See their list of databases.

State Univeristy of New York Libraries

Stony Brook students, staff, and faculty have direct borrowing privileges at most other SUNY libraries.

Digital Collections at Stony Brook

Library Databases - Historic Newspapers

Newspaper Archives on the Internet

Newspapers in Microforms at Stony Brook

Major Historical Sets

  • Early American Newspapers – Microfilm A565
  • Early American Newspapers, 1704-1820 – Microprint 4
  • Underground Newspaper Collection* – Microfilm A178 [1963-1985]

Index to Underground Newspaper Collection: Microforms Library Z6944.U5 B4 [1963-1985]

  • Alternative Press Collection* – Microfilm A178 [1986 – present]

Alternative press. A guide to the microform collection Z6944.U5 B4 [1986-present]

Other Major Papers

  • New York Herald [1840-1919] – Microfilm A1
  • New York Tribune / Daily Tribune / Herald Tribune [1841-1966] Microfilm 123
  • Christian Science Monitor [1908-1925, 1960-present] Microfilm A26

Major Foreign Newspapers

  • The Times (London, England) [1788-present] – Microfilm A6
  • Le Monde (Paris, France) [1944-present] – Microfilm A4
  • Le Temps (Paris, France : 1861) [1861-1942] – Microfilm A3
  • Pravda (Moscow, Russia) [1917,1921-1975] – Microfilm A161

African-American Newspapers

  • New York Amsterdam News (1919-present) – Microfilm A128
  • Chicago Defender (1905-1966) – Microfilm A395
  • Pittsburgh Courier [weekly] (1923-1947) – Microfilm A238

Special Collections

Have historic newspapers for Long Island.  Original newsprint copies and microfilm.  Most but not all titles are in STARS.  Consult with Kristen or Jason.

Indexes

ONLINE

PRINT

  • New York Times: Newspaper Indexes AI21 .N44 [1851- present]
  • The Times (London, England) Newspaper Indexes AI21.T5 [1790-present]
  • Christian Science Monitor: Newspaper Indexes AI21.c3 [1946-1994]
  • Le Monde: Newspaper Indexes AI21.m6 [1944-1968]
  • Wall Street Journal: Newspaper Indexes HG1.W26 [1955-present]
  • Washington Post: Newspaper Indexes AI21.W33 W36 [1971-1995]
  • Newsday: Newspaper Indexes AI21.N5 [1977-1985]
  • Alternative Press Index: Main Stacks [1969-5 years ago-ish].

Card Catalog Drawer

Located at the Reference Desk.  Indexes newspapers by state/region.

Microform Collections at Stony Brook

Prrimary source collections include:

 

  • Early American Imprints (1639-1800)
  • Early American Books (1801-1819)
  • Early American Newspapers
  • American Culture Series
  • American Periodical Series
  • U.S. Presidential Papers
  • British Sessional Papers
  • Oberlin College Anti-Slavery Collection
  • Columbia University Oral History Collection
  • Cornell University Collection of Women's Rights Pamphlets
  • Selections from Archivo General de Indias

Primary Sources on the Web

Historic Magazines & Journals

Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature

To find magazine and journal articles between 1880 and 1980.  Readers' Guide is located in the Central Reading Room (CRR).  When you enter the CRR, it will be on the wall to your immediate left, at call number AI3 .R483.

Each volume of Readers' Guide is indexed by Subject.  Under each subject, there will be a list of article titles, with abbreviations for the magazine or journal in which the article is located, the date of the issue, and the volume and page number(s).

When you find an article, you need to then check in STARS to see if the library has the magazine/journal for the date of the article. (I receommend using the JOURNAL CATALOG part of STARS.  Once you find the magazine, check the "Summary Holdings" to see if we have the date you need.

For example, if you find an article from Time magazine from April 1957, search the JOURNAL CATALOG for Time.  When you click on the link for Time, you will various Summary Holdings for Microfiche (1965-1974,1982-); Microfilm (1923-1956,1960-1964,1975-1981) and Print (1957-March 1975,Oct. 1975-1980,1982-).  April 1957 would be available, then, in the Print version, which is located in the Main Stacks at call number AP2 .T37 OVERSIZE x.

You will also see a link for online versions.  You can check this to see if the magazine/journal is available for your date.  Please keep in mind, however, that most magazines and journals online will only go back to about 1980.

JSTOR

While JSTOR is often used for secondary sources, keep in mind that each journal in JSTOR goes back to its first issue.  Many journals go back into the 19th century, and a few go back as far as the 17th and 18th centuries.  So, it can also be used as a primary source.

Google Books

Unlike newspapers, there are very few options online for 20th century magazines.  One of the better resources is Google Books, which does include some old issues of various magazines.

First issue of Life magazine from November 23, 1936.

Audio and Visual Resources

There are an increasing number of excelent web sites that have audio-visual proimary source material.

Internet Archive - Probably the best overall collection of audio-visual material that could be used for primary sources. The Archive currently contains almost 400,000 moving images and nearly 700,000 audio items, along with software and other material.

YouTube - Great resource for finding speeches and hidtoric news items, as well as musical and cinematic trasures.

Special Collections & University Archives

Special Collections and University Archives select, acquire, preserve and provide access to rare, valuable, and scarce primary and secondary materials  in a variety of formats in support of the educational and research endeavors of Stony Brook University's students, faculty, and staff.

The department also extends its services to researchers in the wider geographic region, nationally, and internationally. 

The collection includes: books, manuscripts, and maps dating from the 15th century; the University Archives; audio/visual materials;  and a digital repository. All are welcome to explore the library's unique collections.