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Michigan State University

RCAH 112, Spring 2016, Dr Austin Jackson. Black Popular Culture and Social Movements.: Primary sources online

Primary vs. Secondary

What's the difference between primary and secondary sources?

  • Primary sources give first-hand evidence of an event, a person's life, or a period of history.
  • Secondary sources give an author's interpretation of what the first-hand evidence means.

For more on this, see this 4-minute video, Understanding Primary Sources. (It's the second video on the list. You can skip the first video by just clicking on the title Understanding Primary Sources below the video window.)

Find Primary Sources among the Library's Online Resources

SearchPlus does not have a good way to limit your results only to primary sources. However, the library's database list does identify online collections we have purchased access to which are composed of the most common types of primary sources: diaries, letters, legal documents, photographs, first-hand accounts, etc.

Go to the Electronic Resources section of the library website: er.lib.msu.edu. (This section identifies all the individual databases we subscribe to - all types including primary sources. Most, but not all, are being searched collectively when you use SearchPlus.)

On the left, click on the Primary Sources tab. On the right is a short list of the most frequently used online collections of primary sources. Or go to the entire giant list at the bottom.

Primary source collections online

Here are some primary source databases related to your topic:

African American Communities (Black urban life)

Black Drama: 1850 to the Present

Black Freedom Struggles in the 20th Century (ProQuest History Vault)

Black Thought and Culture

Slavery, Abolition, and Social Justice: 1490-2007

The Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives

Twentieth Century African American Poetry

Archives Unbound Collections. Subcollections include:

  • the National Negro Congress
  • the Black Liberation Army
  • the Revolutionary Action Movement
  • papers of Amiri Baraka
  • 1961 Freedom Riders
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