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Africana Primary Sources: Getting Started


Primary sources provide raw data (such as first-hand accounts or other direct evidence) about a topic, usually created during the timeframe under study by witnesses or recorders who experienced the subject being documented. It is the content of the source which matters, not its physical format; a digital version of a South African newspaper published when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison serves the same primary source function as the original print version would.

This guide will highlight some of the Herskovits Library's materials which can be considered primary sources, depending on your project.

Primary Source Examples



 Primary source examples

 Anthropology, Archaeology

 Articles describing research, ethnographies, surveys,

cultural and historical artifacts

 Communications, Journalism

 News (printed, radio, TV, online), photographs,

blogs, social media sites

 Education, Political Science, Public  Policy

 Government publications, laws, court cases,

speeches, test results, interviews, polls, surveys

 Fine Arts

 Original art work, photographs, recordings of performances

and music, scripts (film, theatre, television), music scores,

interviews, memoirs, diaries, letters


 Government publications, newspapers, photographs,

diaries, letters, manuscripts, business records,

court cases, videos, polls, census data, speeches

Language and Literature

 Novels, plays, short stories, poems, dictionaries,

language manuals

Psychology, Sociology, Economics

 Articles describing research, experiment results, ethnographies, interviews, surveys, data sets


 Articles describing research and methodologies, documentation of lab research, research studies




Subject Guide

Esmeralda Kale's picture
Esmeralda Kale
(847) 491-7684
Northwestern University Library
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston, Il 60208

Research and Media Assistant

Gene Kannenberg Jr.'s picture
Gene Kannenberg Jr.
Herskovits Library of African Studies
Level 5, East Tower
Main Library
1970 N. Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208