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English Language & Literature

Resources for conducting literary research on English & American Literatures.

Why Use Primary Sources?

brown paper and black penPrimary sources are firsthand accounts of an event -- or original records created during that time period -- which do not contain any outside interpretation. Primary sources can include letters, diaries, or interviews; historical news reportage; original works of fiction, art, or music; testimony or speeches.

When and Why You Should Use Primary Sources:

  • You need a better understanding of an event, produced by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question
  • You need to offer a view of history through the lens of of unique, often profoundly personal, documents or objects
  • You need examples of different points of view from individuals whose stories might not have been told

Remember: Primary sources are the building blocks of historical research and should provide the foundation of your argument and interpretation, whereas secondary sources should inform and supplement the primary sources. Use your primary sources as evidence for answering your research question and write based on those sources, rather than “plugging them in” after the fact to bolster your argument. In short, primary sources should drive the paper, not the other way around.

Find Manuscripts (Prose, Poetry, & Drama)

Find Ephemera & More

Collection of ephemeraEphemera is useful because its sheer variety (posters, maps, advertisements, trade cards, programs, etc.) provides a glimpse into a historical period's cultural, economic, and social customs & traditions.

Still not sure what constitutes ephemera?  Take a look at these examples...