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AAS366: Ida B. Wells and the Beginning of the Modern Civil Rights Movement: Primary Sources

Spring 2011, P. Giddings

Smith's Primary Sources Page

On the Web...


If you would like to work with primary source materials in the original, consider using Smith's Sophia Smith Collection. A topical list of their major collections is available on their Collections by Subject page.  Note in particular their collections on Women of Color and Race Relations in the U.S..

Materials relating to the history of the college are housed in the College Archives. Letters, diaries, and other primary sources documenting student life at Smith are listed on the Research Guides page. You might also wish to explore the records of specific academic departments or committees relating to curricular matters.

Consult with the collection curators for other ideas.

To search for archival material within the Five Colleges, use Asteria; to search for archival materials beyond the Five Colleges, use Archive Finder.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources:

  • Are original records created at the time an historical event occurred; they may also be written well after-the-fact by participants in the event (think of memoirs, autobiographies, or transcriptions of recollections - i.e. oral histories)
  • Need not focus on a specific event; rather, they may more generally reflect the ideas and values of a particular time period
  • May include personal writings such as letters, diaries, journals, memoirs, and autobiographies (in manuscript or published form). They may also include newspaper articles or editorials, speeches, interviews
  • May be produced by governments and organizations, for example, the U.S. Bureau of Education, the Ku Klux Klan, the NAACP, etc.
  • Need not be "non-fiction" works - or written works. They may be creative works, such as poems, novels, and plays, as well as photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures, sheet music, etc.

In short, primary sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research.

Adapted from Using Primary Sources on the Web, History Section, Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association, accessed 4/15/13]

For an overview of primary sources available at Smith and in the Five Colleges, consult the Find Primary Sources page.


  • In addition to materials in the Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives, there is an abundance of primary source material in the libraries.
  • Use secondary literature for leads on primary sources.

Five College Library Catalog

To start your subject search, click on SUBJECT KEYWORD. Note that the "correct" subject heading isn't always obvious or predictable.

If a subject search doesn't work, try KEYWORDS ANYWHERE to find a few relevant titles. Then track through on the Subject(s) listed on individual book descriptions to conduct a more comprehensive subject search.

As you look through lists of subjects, watch for the words "personal narratives," "diaries," "interviews," "correspondence," "pamphlets," and "sources" as part of the subject headings.

You can also search for these words, for example, lynching and (sources or pamphlets or interviews )

Other clues may be buried in the title, authorship, date of publication, etc.

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