WST 6001: Feminist Research Methodology

Primary Resources

Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources

The definition of what constitutes a primary source is often the subject of scholarly debate and interpretation. Although primary sources come from a wide spectrum of resources, they are united by the fact that they individually provide insight into the historical milieu (context and environment) during which they were produced. Primary sources include materials such as newspaper articles, press dispatches, autobiographies, essays, letters, diaries, speeches, song lyrics, posters, works of art—and in the twenty-first century, web logs—that offer direct, first-hand insight or wit-ness to events of their day.

Categories of primary sources include:

  • Documents containing firsthand accounts of historic events by witnesses and participants. This category includes diary or journal entries, letters, email, newspaper articles, interviews, memoirs, and testimony in legal proceedings.
  • Documents or works representing the official views of both government leaders and leaders of terrorist organizations. These include primary sources such as policy statements, speeches, interviews, press releases, government reports, and legislation.
  • Works of art, including (but certainly not limited to) photographs, poems, and songs, including advertisements and reviews of those works that help establish an understanding of the cultural milieu (the cultural environment with regard to attitudes and perceptions of events).


Finding Primary Source Materials at the USF Library

While the USF Library does not catalog materials based on whether or not they are "primary" source materials, there are some useful subject subdivisions one may use to locate these materials within the collection.

 The six primary subdivisions are:





--Personal Narratives



1) Biography: is used to find works about the personal aspects of an individuals life, or on the person's professional achievements. Includes Autobiographies.

s=[class of person]--biography



s=presidents--united states--biography


[sex or ethnic group of person]--biography

s=women in politics--united states--biography

s=cuban americans--biography


[place or organization or event]--biography


s=united nations--biography


[name of the person]--biography

s=nixon richard m richard milhous 1913--biography

s=shakespeare william 1564-1616--biography

s=vidal gore 1925--biography


2) Correspondence is used to describe materials which are the personal correspondence of individuals.

 [name of the letter writer(s)]--correspondence

s=Jefferson Thomas 1743-1826--correspondence

s=Nixon Richard M richard milhous 1913--correspondence

s=Churchill Winston Sir 1871-1947--correspondence


[class of person or ethnic group]--correspondence


s=presidents--United States--correspondence


3) Diaries: used to describe records of personal experiences, observations, thoughts or feelings of an individuals.

[name of diarist]--diaries

s=French Benjamin B Benjmin Brown 18000-1870--diaries

s=Woolf, Virginia 1882-1941--diaries


[class of persons, or ethnic groups]--diaries


s=politicians--united states—diaries


4) Interviews: used to designate biographical/autobiographical materials

[individual persons]--interviews

s=ford gerald R 1913--interviews

s=carter jimmy 1924--interviews

s=reagan ronald--interviews


[class of persons or ethnic group]--interviews



[interviews from a particular geograpical region]--interviews

s=interviews--united states


5) Personal narratives: used under the names of events and wars for collective or individual eyewitness reports and or autobiographical acounts of these events.

[under names of individual events or wars]--personal narratives

s=Vietnamese conflict, 1961-1975--personal narratives

s=world war 1939-1945--personal narratives     


6) sources: used under historical topics, for collections of writings such as documents, letters etc. for use by people doing research on the history of that topic. Also used under the names of persons for discussing the individual's sources of ideas or inspiration for his endeavors or creative works.

use under subjects headings:

s=united states--foreign relations--sources

s=united states--history--civil war, 1861-1865--sources



use under the names of literary authors to find works containing collections of writings pertaining to the life of the individual:

s=Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870--biography--sources


use to find collections and discussions of documents serving as source materials for the history of a topic:

s=international law--sources

s=law--united states--sources

s=slavery--United states--history--19th century--sources

s=slavery--law and legislation--united states--history--sources


Key words to use





diplomatic history

foreign relations




papers of

personal narratives


presidential papers

public papers


Subject headings useful for finding Primary Source Materials:

Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913--Biography

World War, 1939‑1945--Diplomatic history

Carter, Jimmy, 1924--Interviews.

Reagan, Ronald--Interviews.

Vietnamese Conflict, 1961‑1975--Personal narratives Vietnamese.

United States‑‑Foreign relations‑‑1933‑1945.

United States‑‑Politics and government‑‑1775‑1783.

United States‑‑Foreign relations--20th century

Novelists, English‑‑19th century--Biography.


Women in politics‑‑Africa--Biography.


Presidents‑‑United States--Biography.


Presidents‑‑United States--Biography.

Dickens, Charles, 1812‑1870--Biography--Sources.

Politicians‑‑United States--Diaries.

United States‑‑Foreign relations--Sources

Japan‑‑Foreign relations‑‑United States--Sources.

World War, 1939‑1945‑‑Diplomatic history--Sources.

World War, 1939‑1945‑‑Causes--Sources.


Stock Market Crash, 1987‑‑History--Sources.

United States‑‑Foreign relations--Soviet Union

Soviet Union‑‑Foreign relations--United States

United States‑‑History‑‑Civil War, 1861‑1865‑‑Personal Narratives

United States‑‑Foreign relations‑‑Japan‑‑Sources.

United States‑‑History‑‑Revolution, 1775‑1783‑‑Sources.


Reference Sources

AccessUN. The premier index to United Nations documents including Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN Sales Publications, and the UN Treaty Series citations. Also included is the full-text of several thousand UN documents.

America: History and Life. contains bibliographic citations and abstracts of journal articles, reviews, and dissertations on the history and culture of the United States from prehistory to the present.

Congressional Record. The proceedings and debates presented before the US Congress. Issued daily while Congress is in session. Contains the Presidents messages, Congressional speeches and debates in full, and records of votes. Does NOT include text of bills. (located in US Documents Department, in the basement.) X.95/1:123/pt.1-2

Documents of American History, V.1-2. contains Famous documents, ordinances/laws, legal decisions, speeches and treaties. Volume 1 (to 1898), Volume 2 (Since 1898). E173.D59 1988

PAIS International Database. An index to the public policy literature of business, economics, law, international relations, government, political science and other social science.

Public papers of the presidents of the united states. A record of the public messages, and speeches of the presidents from Truman to the present. (located in the US Documents Department, in the basement) AE2.114

Sources for American Studies. Lists and places in context over 3000 primary and secondary source items dealing with the study of the United States. Includes background essays and bibliographies. Topics covered include Foreign relations, Economic history, Immigration, Historiography. (located in the Tampa Reference Department.) Reference Annex E175.S58 1983

Vital Speeches of the Day. Prints in full the important addresses of contemporary leaders of public opinion in the fields of Economics, Politics, Education, Sociology, Business etc. Heavy representation from the government. Covers the years 1939 to the present. Speeches are indexed in the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, & the Biography Index (located in the Periodicals department, 2nd floor) PN4001.V5

Weekly compilation of presidential documents. Publishes transcripts of the President's news conferences, messages to Congress, public speeches, and statements and other presidential materials released by the White House up to 5 p.m. on each Friday. (located in the US Documents Department, in the basement) AE2.109

Newspapers online

Access World News. Provides full‑text information and perspectives from over 600 U.S. and over 700 international sources, each with its own distinctive focus offering diverse viewpoints on local, regional and world issues. This database provides comprehensive coverage of current events and historical events. Newspapers included: Los Angeles Times,Washington Post, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, Sarasota Herald‑Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Tribune, New York Times, Sunday Times, London Times

 Ethnic Newswatch. Contains the full-text of newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority and native press (1990 to present).

 Proquest Newspapers. provides full-text access to the Christian Science monitor (coverage varies), Los Angeles times (1985- ), New York times (1999- ), Wall Street journal (1982- ), and Washington post (1987- ). Also indexes and provides full-text access to a Historical database of the New York times (1851-2001). ProQuest has the ability to search all titles simultaneously or individually. Search methods include: Search by Topic, Search for Publication (locate a specific issue of a specific newspaper), and Search by keyword or phrases.


Primary Source Materials: Online Databases and Microfilm Collections

American Women’s History: A Research guide. provides citations to print and Internet reference sources, as well as to selected large primary source collections useful in the study of women in American history.

Empire Online Database.  Empire Online is a collection of original documents relating to the teaching of the history of empires and empire building in the modern era sourced from libraries and archives around the world. This digital resource enables exploration of colonial history, politics, culture and society by providing images of approximately 60,000 original manuscripts and primary sources covering the period 1492-1962.

Human and Civil Rights: Essential Primary Sources.  This online source privides access to primary source documents with a focus on Human and Civil Rights issues of the 19-21st centuries.  It covers the universal guarantees of security of person and freedom of conscience for all individuals regardless of nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, or gender. Included are full or excerpted documents---speeches, legislation, magazine and newspaper articles, essays, memoirs, letters, interviews, novels, songs, and works of art---as well as overview information that places each document in context.

Gender Issues and Sexuality: Essential Primary Sources.  This online source provides access to primary source documents on issues of gender and sexuality---issues that range from intimate matters of personal belief to matters that profoundly shape modern society. Included are approximately 175 full or excerpted documents---speeches, legislation, magazine and newspaper articles, essays, memoirs, letters, interviews, novels, songs, and works of art---as well as overview information that places each document in context.

Grassroots Women’s Organizations.  Women’s Suffrage in Wisconsin.   This Microfilm collection provides access to papers from the following collections:  Records of the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association, 1892- 1925 ; The papers of Ada Lois James, 1816-1952

Southern Women and Their Families in the 19th Century: Papers & Diaries.  This microfilm collection provides access to diaries and papers from the following collections: Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Mary Susan Ker papers, 1785-1923; Roach and Eggleston Family papers, 1830-1905; Louisiana and Mississippi collections.

Women’s City Club of New York. This Microfilm collection provides access to papers from the Records of the Women's City Club of New York, 1916-1980.