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HIST 4930: Research Seminar in American History (Burnham): Home

Resources to aid in advanced history research

Choosing a Topic

Things to remember when choosing your topic:

  • Primary source material is being digitized and made available online; however, most of these resources from the past are still only available in print in Archives.
  • Primary documents on non-American topics may be more difficult to find and may not have been translated into English.
  • You may want to do a topic involving the common people, but you will probably be able to find more documents written by the “famous” of your time period.
  • It is very difficult to do an entire paper using only primary sources, since those sources tend to be very narrow and specific in scope.
  • Using primary sources is more time-consuming.
  • You may find that primary sources on your first choice of topic are not available locally.

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources (or primary documents or resources) “provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. .. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.”  Sometimes, materials that are not first-person accounts but were written during the time period you are researching (such as newspaper articles or books) can be considered primary sources, because they provide direct insight on the time period.  (Primary Sources at Yale, http://primarysources.yale.edu/)

 When scholars or researchers make a careful examination of primary documents, draw conclusions, and write up those conclusions in a paper, article, or book, those interpretations are called secondary sources.

Common examples of primary sources:

Copies of speeches, addresses, treaties, laws, or declarations.
         
Diaries, letters, papers, or autobiographies.

First person reports in newspapers or magazines.

Interviews or oral histories.

Objects, photographs, or maps.

Video recordings, streaming video or tapes of events or speeches.

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Subjects: History

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