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Soc 444 Social Movements (Crubaugh): How To Find Primary Sources

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.

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.

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. 

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.