Women in the Black Freedom Movement: Using Archives: What Are Sources?

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. Sometimes access to these materials is free, but sometimes there is a cost (e.g., via a subscription). One example of subscription digital archive is the North American women's letters and diaries. This is an electronic resource that is available to you at not cost by searching CLIO and using your University ID (UNI). Columbia University Libraries pays for this subscription. 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.

Here are two examples of open access (freely available) materials: Theological Commons maintained by Princeton Theological Seminary, which includes primary and secondary sources. Another open access (freely available) portal to sources is the Library of Congress Digital Collections and Services page,