Skip to Main Content

Race on the Stage: THTR 0842

Resource guide for the Gen Ed course, Race on the Stage

Why Primary Sources?

Bach manuscript

 What Are Primary Sources? Primary source material is contemporaneous with the event, person, or phenomena studied; designating an original document, source, or text rather than one of criticism, discussion, or summary. Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or sometimes after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past.

Access Primary Sources
Temple University Libraries provide access to numerous primary-source history databases.  The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC)Urban Archives, and the Blockson Collection are all important archival repositories located on Temple's main campus.  Several major in-house digitization efforts have resulted in the online availability of thousands of images and manuscripts from these three collections. 

Digital reproductions of primary documents in American history are now relatively abundant online. Links to some of the best free portals for United States history are included in this guide. Recall that the vast majority of primary documents remain available only in paper. These can take the form of reproductions of letters and diaries published in commonly-held books or rare manuscripts available only in a single library or archive. Use Library Search to find primary sources in Charles and other Temple University Libraries. See the box below for additional details and search examples.

Find Primary Sources in the Online Catalog

Use Library Search to find primary sources available through Temple University Libraries. Think about the types of documents that you would like to retrieve.  The term Sources is used as a subheading to identify primary-source material. Other primary-source subheadings include Personal NarrativesCorrespondence, and Diaries. You can add these terms to a search to retrieve primary source materials.

Example: A researcher needs to find primary-source documents on the Civil Rights Movement.  You can search

"United States" and "Civil Rights" and Sources

The following keyword searches reveal citations to books that contain primary documents relating to Civil Rights in the United States.

  1. "Civil Rights" AND "United States" AND Sources
  2. "Civil War" AND "United States" AND "personal narratives"
  3. "United States" AND "race relations" and sources
  4. "United States" AND "Civil Rights" AND Correspondence


Library of Congress Digital Collections

Library of Congress American Memory Logo

No search for primary-source materials is complete without a visit to the Library of Congress Digital Collections. This vast collection can be keyword searched or browsed by topic, time period, or media types that include manuscripts, maps, motion pictures, photos, video recordings, and more.


Making of America


"Making of America (MOA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history primarily from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology" (University of Michigan).

  • Making of America Books - The book collection currently contains approximately 10,000 books with 19th century imprints.

U.S. National Archives

Archives Logo

NARA offers one of the richest repositories for U.S. history, but only a relatively small portion of the collection is available online.

National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults contains 1,200 documents, photographs, drawings, maps, and other materials drawn from the vast holdings of the National Archives and covering all periods of U.S. history to about 2004.

The Archival Facility for NARA's Mid-Atlantic Region is located in Center City Philadelphia.

Civil Rights Archive

"In 1965, Robert Penn Warren wrote a book, now out of print, entitled Who Speaks for the Negro? To research this publication, he traveled the country and spoke with a variety of people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He spoke with nationally-known figures as well as people working in the trenches of the Movement. The volume contains many of the transcripts from these conversations. The Who Speaks for the Negro? Archive [from Vanderbilt University Libraries] contains digitized versions of the original reel-to-reel recordings, as well as copies of the correspondence, transcripts, and other printed materials related to his research for the provocatively-titled book."


"Documenting the American South (DocSouth) is a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. Currently DocSouth includes ten thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs" (University of North Carolina).

BOOKS: Primary-Source U.S. History Databases

All information on this page is adapted from the research guide in history by David C. Murray.  Thank you, David!

The following databases provide electronic reproductions of full-text primary-source books. 

PERIODICALS: Primary-Source U.S. History Databases

The following databases -- many Temple-only, a few open-access -- index and in most cases provide electronic reproductions of full-text, primary source magazines, journals, and newspapers. 

EPHEMERA: Primary-Source U.S. History Databases

The following databases -- most Temple-only, one open-access -- provide electronic reproductions of full-text primary-source documents including maps, letters, diaries, oral histories, memoirs and other personal narratives. Many of these databases are relevant to the history of other parts of the world such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

STILL IMAGES & VIDEO: Primary-Source U.S. History Databases

Find visual materials such as drawings and paintings, still photographs and videos.