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Studies in Criticism: ENG 4097

Research help for Sue-Im Lee's course, "Studies in Criticism."

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.

Historical Manuscripts

manuscriptManuscripts are useful because they can provide insight into the production of works as well as document the lives of significant literary figures.

The term "manuscript" literally means "written by hand" and encompasses a broad array of documents and records of numerous formats and types, including letters & correspondence, diaries & journals, memoirs & autobiographies, papers relating to published and unpublished literary works, as well as handwritten notes.

Video Tutorials on Primary & Secondary Sources

Historial Ephemera & More

examples 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...

Historical Newspapers & Magazines

front page of The New York TimesNewspapers and periodicals are useful because they can contain original reviews of works as well as accounts of what was occurring when the work was published. Ultimately, newspapers and periodicals are invaluable for their relative immediacy, recording history as it happened.