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Primary Sources are original sources: they were created by someone who participated in or observed an event. They include diaries, newspapers, government documents, photographs, and other manuscripts.
A Guide for Finding Personal Texts
Personal texts--diaries, memoirs, letters, autobiographies, and papers--usually make excellent primary sources because they were written by a historical person you're studying.
Personal texts are scattered throughout the internet, in databases, and on the shelves of the UA Libraries. Here are some techniques for locating diaries, letters, and other primary sources using Scout, Google, or Classic Catalog:
- Combine keywords describing your subject with such words as sources, letters, speeches, writings, documents, diaries, papers, etc. For example, searching for “World War II ” and diaries will locate diaries written during World War II.
- Search for key people as authors. For example, let us say that you are researching the European Discovery of America. Searching for Christopher Columbus as an author will locate journals and speeches of Columbus. You can set your search to author in the "Basic Search" screen.
- Find secondary sources on a historical figure in Scout. Scan the bibliographies of these secondary sources for diaries, memoirs, letters, and papers.
Memoirs at Gorgas Library
Best for finding print and eBooks. Combine keywords describing your subject with words like diaries, memoirs, etc. Or search for key people as authors. For example, searching for Ulysses S. Grant as an author will locate memoirs and speeches by Grant. You can set your search to author in the "Basic Search" screen.
Can also be used to find memoirs and other print (or electronic) books. The same general search strategies apply.
Finding Memoirs on WorldCat
WorldCat is the world's largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information. You can search for popular books, music CDs and videos—all of the physical items you're used to getting from libraries. WorldCat can be used to verify citations, locate an item in another library, or to provide accurate citation information for inter-library loan requests. (Does not include citations to individual articles, stories in periodicals, or book chapters).
Use Interlibrary loan to request any books, journal articles, theses/dissertations, newspapers, or other sources that the university libraries don't have. With print books and some other sources you may have to wait 1-2 weeks for them to be delivered, but electronic copies of things like scholarly journal articles can be accessed in a matter of days!
Oral Histories/Slave Narratives
American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology
This database offers interviews conducted with thousands of former slaves in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration. Read primary accounts of slave family life, religion, music, art, and work. However, Gorgas Library also offers many, many more former WPA slave interviews in print. The official title of the collection is The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography.
North American Slave Narratives (The University of North Carolina)
collects books and articles that document the individual and collective story of African Americans struggling for freedom and human rights in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.
Freedmen and Southern Society Project
a variety of slave interviews, petitions, letters, military documents, testimonies, and other materials related to the freedmen.
African American Women (Duke University)
This Duke University collection includes letters from African-American women who lived on Southern plantations in the 1800s.
From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909 (Library of Congress)
presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics