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WMST 3514: Historical Approaches to Feminist Questions

This guide, created by librarian Jenna Freedman, provides research and zine-making support for Neferti Tadiar's class.

A Note about Primary and Secondary Sources

Definitions

Primary sources are materials contemporaneous to the time you are researching, created by someone with first-hand experience of the phenomena that you are researching. Primary sources can come in any format, including newspaper articles, diaries, memoirs, letters, reports, scholarly articles, books (including works of fiction and non-fiction), films, artworks, laws, financial records, posters, photographs, and artifacts. 

Archives are materials created by people or organizations, in the course of their every-day activity, which are preserved because of their historical significance or value for research. Another definition of archives: unique constellations of materials, collected and preserved because they contain important information and/or evidence of their creator's responsibilities and actions. All archival collections are comprised of primary sources, but not all primary sources are archival.

For more about finding and using archives, including the Barnard Archives, see our guide Archival Research at Barnard and Beyond and feel welcome to set up an appointment with Martha.

Finding primary sources in secondary-ish places

Because primary sources can come in any format, many databases and other places you would look for secondary sources are also good for finding primary sources. Examples of this include books in CLIO or HathiTrust and scholarly journal articles in JSTOR (which includes articles from the 19th century, helpful for researching the history of a given field or area of knowledge) or other databases. One way to find primary sources in these places is to limit by date to the period you're researching. Another is to use keywords (particularly in CLIO) such as memoir, autobiography, source*, documentary (which often refers to books of re-printed primary source materials), letters, etc. 

In addition to the resources listed below, historical newspapers and other news media can be a great place to find primary sources from the time you're researching.

Primary Source Databases

Data

The Empirical Reasoning Center - provides help formulating empirical questions, finding appropriate data sets, and  guidance and training with analysis software.

Selected Government Document Databases

Web Archives - Finding and Making

  • Access past versions of websites using the Internet Archives' Wayback Machine.
  • You can also find curated sets of archived websites on Archive-It (search for a URL, keyword, etc.--the actual archived websites themselves are keyword searchable).
  • In order to create stable, archived versions of websites for citation, there are a couple of options:
    • You can go to the Wayback Machine and use the "Save Page Now" feature
    • For more dynamic, difficult to archive content (like social media), you can use the free tool Conifer
  • The Association of Internet Researchers has a set of ethical guidelines that are instructive when doing online research.