International Roots of the Civil Rights Movement: What Are Sources?

Guide to navigating archives, which will be used as part of Union Theological Seminary class CE315 taught by Sarah Azaransky

Types of sources

Primary sources 

  1. Consult primary sources (original works or data) for evidence (Turabian, 25).
  2. They "provide the 'raw data' that you use first to test your working hypothesis and then as evidence to support your claim. In history, for example, primary sources include documents from the period of person you are studying, objects, maps, even clothing; in literature or philosophy, your main primary source is usually the text you are studying, and your data are the words on the page" (Booth, 69).

Secondary sources

  1. Read secondary sources (books or articles that analyze primary sources) to learn from other researchers (Turabian, 25).
  2. They "are research reports that use primary data to solve research problems, written for scholarly and professional audiences. Researchers read them to keep up with their field and use what they read to frame problems of their own by disputing other researchers' conclusions or questioning their methods" (Booth, 69).

Tertiary sources

  1. Read tertiary sources (based on secondary sources) for introductory overviews (Turabian, 27).
  2. They "are books and articles that synthesize and report on secondary sources for general readers, such as textbooks, articles in encyclopedias and mass-circulation publications like Psychology Today, and what standard search engines turn up first on the Web. In the early stages of research, you can use tertiary sources to get a feel for a topic" (Booth, 69).

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory Colomb, Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 8th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Not Just Paper - Digital Sources

Primary sources do not always need to be in physical form. Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources can be in digital or electronic format. Some collections of primary sources have been scanned and digitized for ease of use and to ensure preservation of the original materials. One example of a digital archive is the North American women's letters and diaries. This is an electronic resource that is available to you by searching CLIO and using your University ID (UNI).

Many of these digital archive collections can also be found via Google, however we suggest starting with CLIO because many of these materials and sources are subscription-based and require a login. If Columbia University Library subscribes, they will be free to you via your UNI.

Another useful resource containing primary and secondary sources is Theological Commons maintained by Princeton Theological Seminary.

It is important when thinking of digital sources that there will be free sources, like those digitized and offered by the Library of Congress, and then there will be sources from commercial archives. The Alexander Street Press would be a commercial entity which provided the access for the North American women's letters and diaries.