Cultural Anthropology: Find Primary Sources

This guide provides resources for your cultural anthropological research

Using Archives

Archives are collections of historically important material that are organized and made accessible to preserve information on individuals and organizations. These materials provide evidence of the day-to-day activities of the people and organizations which originally created the collections. Materials considered "archival" could be, but are not limited to, photographs, correspondence, minutes, maps, audio-visual material, and publications.

For sound practical advice on preparing for and conducting archival research, please see:

Documents related to American History are also held in British and European Archives. You may, therefore, also wish to consider:

On Campus resources:

  • Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library: Home to books and periodicals in architecture, historic preservation, art history, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archaeology.
  • Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary: Home to the largest theological library in the western hemisphere, containing rich collections for theological study and research.
  • Oral History Archive: With over 15,000 interviews, this is one of the largest oral history collections in the United States. It is unique in the nation in that it has never been confined in its scope to one region or area of historical experience.
  • Social Agency Collection in Lehman Library
  • Rare Book & Manuscript Library: Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections. The range of collections in RBML span more than 4,000 years and comprise rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; as well as art and regalia. 

Archival Material

  • ArchiveGrid: A collection of nearly two million archival material descriptions, including records from WorldCat and finding aids harvested from the web. Archival collections held by thousands of libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives are represented in ArchiveGrid. 
  • Archive Finder: Includes the pre-1984 National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC), and indexes The National Inventory of Documentary Sources, a fiche collection reproducing the finding aids of American and British repositories. The excellent search engine provides a variety of options including searching in date ranges and limiting to collections in specific states, cities, or repositories.
  • Indigenous peoples--North America: The archive includes extensive monograph, manuscript, newspaper, periodical and photograph collections. 
  • The National Archives at New York City: Maintains the historically significant records of Federal agencies and courts in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands dating from 1685 to the present. We also hold select microfilm publications of the National Archives and provide access to a variety of online historical resources.  
  • Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland: This collection of digitized primary sources provides access to more than 150 years of the longest-established association dedicated to the furtherance of anthropology in its broadest sense.

Ephemera and more

  • African American Communities: Focuses predominantly on Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina, this resource presents multiple aspects of the African American community through pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, official records, reports and in-depth oral histories.
  • Afro-Americana imprints, 1535-1922: from the Library Company of Philadelphia: These essential books, pamphlets and broadsides, including many lesser-known imprints, hold an unparalleled record of African American history, literature and culture. This collection spans nearly 400 years, from the early 16th to the early 20th century." (from publisher's description)
  • American Broadsides and Ephemera. Series I: Based on the American Antiquarian Society's landmark collection, American Broadsides and Ephemera offers fully searchable facsimile images of approximately 15,000 broadsides printed between 1820 and 1900 and 15,000 pieces of ephemera printed between 1760 and 1900.
  • American Civil War: Letters and DiariesA collection of personal accounts written between 1855 and 1875 that deal with some aspect of the Civil War, related events preceding or following it, or the impact of these on American life.  Includes both previously published materials (memoirs, letters, diaries, and diary excerpts) and previously unpublished materials.
  • American Consumer Culture: This portal combines three complementary sets of primary source material that explore the history of American consumer culture in the twentieth century via three key themes: research into consumer motivation, the advertising process and the products themselves. 
  • Prelinger Archives: Collection of over 60,000 "ephemeral" (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding approximately 5,000 digitized and videotape titles (all originally derived from film) and a large collection of home movies, amateur and industrial films acquired since 2002.

Subject Specific

Other Institutions

Human Relations