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Soc 444 Social Movements (Crubaugh): Home

What is a Primary Resources?

Short Answer: It depends on the project

(Some secondary sources used differently can become primary sources)  

Textbook Answer: Primary sources are contrasted with secondary sources, works that provide analysis, commentary, or criticism on the primary source. A primary source is "first-hand" information, sources as close as possible to the origin of the information or idea under study. 

Secondary Source:
  • Book about Martin Luther King Jr.  
  • Encyclopedia entry about the Civil Rights Movement
  • Analysis of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech

Primary Source:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Autobiography
  • Pamphlets produced by Civil Rights activists / Photos of march Posters / Newspaper article reporting a civil rights marches/events 
  • Transcript or a published copy of Martin Luther King Jr. speech

In historical studies, primary sources include written works, recordings, or other sources of information from people who were participants or direct witnesses to the events in question.

Examples of commonly used primary sources include government documents, memoirs, personal correspondence, oral histories, and contemporary newspaper accounts.




Plural noun: archives

  1. a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people.

Which archive has the records you need?

Sometimes a whole archive will be devoted to one issue but many times an archive will own many collections. So how do you find archive materials when you don't know where to search?

  • Google (see "Finding primary sourses" for further instructions) 
  • National Archives 
  • Databases, like the OAC, that keep track of who has what   

You most likely won’t have the time or the ability to visit various archives in person so filter your search for digitized records. 


"source of information from people who were participants or direct witnesses to the events in question." like a reporter...

Class definition of Social Movements

Social Movement is: "collectivities acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional or organizational channels for the purpose of challenging or defending extant authority, whether it is institutionally or culturally based, in the group, organization, society, culture, or world order of which they are a part" which is from the intro to the Blackwell Companion to Social Movements.

Finding Primary Sources

Where to find Primary Resources:

  • Newspaper Articles = Newspaper and History Databases  
  • Famous Speech/Pamphlets= Library Catalog
  • Autobiographies Library Catalog
  • Art, Personal correspondence, speeches, photos, pamphlets, articles =Archives and/ or History/Art Databases.
  • Government Documents= Government Websites, National Archive, Other Archives, Library Catalog
  • Search "[topic] primary sources" in Google to see what comes up.
    • Often times you'll discover digitized sources at an archive or museum that you were previously unfamiliar with.
  • Museum websites 

Tip: Use Secondary Sources to find Primary Sources.  

Encyclopedias provide detailed summaries of topics- try search GVR entry or wikipedia page for a topic, and written down names of important people/places/incidents, and searched for [those] + primary sources in Google. 

Government Doc

Was your movent opposing or reacting to legislature? Where they trying to pass legislature? Try to find the government documents discuss the topic, locate statements made by politics involved on both side of the issue...

  • Explore government or state websites 
  • Look for information on bills
  • Find congressmen who supported/opposed bills - see if you can find interviews or press statements explaing their stance. 

Primary Sources

Finding historic article in the NYTimes


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Jaimie Beth Colvin
Payson Room 231 next to Circulation Desk
(310) 506-7432

Secondary Sources

Remember, secondary sources will often name key people, pivotal events, influential literature, important dates, etc. Thus, secondary sources identify primary sources you need to find or the people worth research further.   

 Ex: Civil Rights Topic 

You discover Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader in this moment so your research him further to see if he gave speeches,  published materials, or was interviewed. 

You discover he gave the important "I have a Dream Speech"  during the "March on Washington" event and you are able to track down the transcript and finds audio-visual of the speech. 

Citation Styles