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Selecting Your Primary Source Material
Selecting your primary source text(s) is one of the most important decisions you will make as you undertake this project. You will want to spend significant time exploring which documents are available that are related to your topic or interest. Try to give yourself sufficient time to explore multiple options. You will want to choose primary sources that invite numerous questions related to the theme of the course and that are rich and complex enough to allow for extended analysis and interpretation.
A few words about access:
- Materials published before January 1, 1923, are in the public domain and are the most likely to have been digitized. Search the Digital Public Library of America to explore these digitized collections.
- A great deal of material available in archives in libraries across the country remains undigitized, meaning you'd need to travel in person to the location to use a collection.
- Primary source materials published from 1923 forward most likely are still protected by copyright. Access to these materials, if digitized, will be through subscriptions paid for by libraries. Newspaper databases and the Archives of Gender and Sexuality are two examples.
Archives of Sexuality & Gender
Primary source material that explores the many facets of LGBTQ history. Users will find page images of a mixture of activist groups’ organizational papers, flyers and pamphlets, NGO and Governmental reports, periodicals, newsletters, personal papers, legal documents and more.
Legislation & Court Cases
LexisNexis Academic will help you identify and locate the texts of relevant laws and court decisions.
Statistics & Datasets
Association of Religion Data Archives
Detailed statistics for the U.S.; some attention to international data.
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
The Pew Forum conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world.
Pew Forum Specialized Datasets
You can download these sets to perform your own analyses.
World Values Survey
The series is designed to enable a crossnational comparison of values and norms on a wide variety of topics and to monitor changes in values and attitudes across the globe.
Public Religion Research Institute
"Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life."
Using Secondary Sources as Primary Sources
An interdisciplinary journal archive. It includes archives of over one thousand leading academic journals across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, as well as select monographs and other materials valuable for academic work.
In some cases, you may wish to interpret as primary sources texts that originally were created as scholarly secondary sources. For example, if you are investigating the eugenics movement in the United States in the early twentieth century, you could look at articles on the topic that were published in academic journals in the 1910s and 1920s.
Primary Source Anthologies
The following titles in Primo Search offer collections of primary sources that may be relevant to your project.
The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America since 1945 by
Call Number: BL2525 .C643 2005 Print books
Publication Date: 2005
Offers a collection of manifestos, Supreme Court decisions, congressional testimonies, speeches, articles, book excerpts, pastoral letters, interviews, song lyrics, memoirs, and poems.
American Religion by
Call Number: BL2525 .A54 1998, v. 1-3, Print books
Publication Date: 1998
This set offers a wide range of primary source material spanning several centuries of religious experience in the United States. The material is grouped thematically and chronologically with a critical apparatus which includes a substantial introductory essay giving an overview of the subject, a chronology, and bibliographies.
Religious Liberty in the Supreme Court by
Call Number: KF4783.A7 R45 1993 Print books
Publication Date: 1993
Twenty-five of Supreme Court cases are brought together here, introduced, excerpted, and annotated by Terry Eastland. With fifteen of the cases there is also a sampling of contemporaneous editorial comment, from such sources as the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Christian Century, and The New Republic.
U.S. Newspapers & Magazines
Nexis Uni (formerly LexisNexis Academic)
Access to news, business, governmental and legal sources.
Los Angeles Times Historical Newspaper (1881-1995)
Full page and article images with searchable full text back to the first issue of the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
Long regarded as one of the country's definitive journalistic voices of writing on politics, culture, books and the arts The Nation continues to stand as an independent voice in American journalism. This database contains full text for the complete archive of The Nation beginning with its first issue in 1865 through to the present.
New York Times Historical Newspaper
Includes full page images of the New York Daily Times (1851-1857) and the New York Times (1857-2012).
Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982
Contains comprehensive indexing of the most popular general-interest periodicals published in the United States.
This is only a sampling of the collections out there, just to get you started!
American Decades Primary Sources
Cross-disciplinary source spanning the 20th century. Each volume in the set includes full or excerpted primary sources representing the seminal issues, themes, movements and events from a decade. Includes oral histories, songs, speeches, advertisements, TV, play and movie scripts, letters, laws, legal decisions, newspaper articles, cartoons, recipes, and more
History Study Center
Provides a collection of digitized primary and secondary sources for the study of history. Contents include reference books, essays, journal articles, historical newspaper and magazine articles, maps, rare books, government documents, transcripts of historical speeches, images and video clips.