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History and Philosophy of Social Work: Primary Resources in History

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

What is a Primary Source

What is a Primary Resource?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence created by participants and/or observers of a historical event or time period enabling researchers to get as close to the truth of what actually happened. Often, these materials are created at the time when the events or conditions occured. However, primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs and oral histories that are written or recorded later. 

Primary sources are characterized by their content not their format.  Therefore, primary sources can be found in published books, on microfilm/microfiche, in digital form or in their original format.

The following types of materials are generally considered primary resources:

  • Diaries or journals
  • Letters or other manuscripts
  • Speeches and interviews
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Video or motion picture recordings
  • Memoirs and autobiographies. 
  • Published materials from the time (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
  • Government documents
  • Objects and artifacts

Find Background Information

Find Archival Sources

The following archives may have primary source materials useful for your assignment:

Period Newspapers & Magazine Articles

How to use an Archival Finding Aid

1.  Read the abstract, the scope and contents, and the biographical or administrative history to get a sense of what the collection contains.

2.  Note any restrictions on the collection.

3.  Look at the inventory list.

4.  Write down the series, box and/or folder numbers you want to view.

5.  Contact the archives to make an appointment or if you have any questions about the finding or the collection it refers to.

Ask Your Librarian

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Merrie Davidson
O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library | LIB 153

Head of Special Collections & University Achivist

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Ann Kenne
I am available to help with your research questions and for in depth consultations. Feel free to email me or schedule an appointment (in-person or via Zoom)!

O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library | LL09
2115 Summit Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55105-1086
(651) 962 - 5461
Subjects: History, Irish Studies