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AAS Senior Colloquium

Learn about research methods

The source-driven junior paper

Often, the best work arises from close engagement with a primary source. As you read, you'll think of questions or begin to shape an argument. The hard part is to find a primary source that addresses the broad general area of interest. Here are some strategies for finding primary sources:

Finding primary sources in library catalogs

Different library catalogs have different interfaces, and Princeton's library catalog currently offers two, the old Main Catalog and the new Books+. But no matter what catalog you're searching, there are some strategies that can help you find primary sources.

To find the papers of an individual, search for that person as an author, e.g. delany, martin

To find the records of an organization or government body, use the name of the organization as an author e.g. National Urban League

Include one of these words as a keyword or a subject:

  • sources
  • diaries
  • correspondence
  • personal narrative

If you find something that looks useful, look at the detailed view of the catalog record and try to identify the "subject" assigned. For many topics in history, there's an official term used in all Anglo-American library catalogs, like:

  • Black theology--History of doctrines--Sources.
  • Universal Negro Improvement Association--History--Sources.
  • Black power--History--Sources.
  • African Americans--Social conditions--Sources.

To find works published in a particular time and place, explore the search options. It is usually possible to  limit your search by date, language, or location of publication. 

Selected digital materials

ProQuest Black Studies

Multi-disciplinary database that combines primary sources and secondary literature.  Includes: historical Black newspapers; index to Black Literature published in periodicals 1827–1940; index to scholarly periodicals in Black Studies; and scholarly essays with timelines and bibliographies.  Includes the African American Biographical Database.

ProQuest Black Studies 

Biographical profiles & extended narratives of African-Americans from all walks of life. Many profiles include photographs & illustrations, and there is a rich collection of full-text African-American reference works.

African American Communities

"Focusing predominantly on Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina this resource presents multiple aspects of the African American community through pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, official records, reports and in-depth oral histories, revealing the prevalent challenges of racism, discrimination and integration, and a unique African American culture and identity."

African American Heritage    

Primary sources devoted specifically to African American family history, including U.S Federal Census (African Americans only), Freedman's Bank Records, World War I Draft Cards, African American family history books, U.S. Colored Troops Records, vital records, church records, legal records, and more.

African American Music Reference     

Brings together text reference, biographies, chronologies, sheet music, images, lyrics, liner notes, and discographies which chronicle the history and culture of the African American experience through music. The database will expand to include coverage of blues, jazz, spirituals, civil rights songs, slave songs, minstrelsy, rhythm and blues, gospel, and other forms of black American musical expression.

African-American Newspapers, 1827-1998    

Full-text collection of African American newspapers printed across the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries.

African American Newspapers: The 19th Century  (1827-1882)  

Complete text of the major African-American newspapers published in the United States during the 19th century.

African American Periodicals, 1825-1995    

Online collection of academic and political journals, commercial magazines, institutional newsletters, organizations' bulletins, annual reports and other diverse periodicals. 

African American Poetry Database   (1750-1900)  

Contains nearly 3,000 poems by African-American poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

African American Song   

Documents the history of African American music in an online music listening service. Contains a diverse range of genres such as jazz, blues, gospel, ragtime, folk songs, and narratives, among others.

American History & Culture Online  (1500-1926)

Digital library of works written or published in the United States, as well as items printed elsewhere, that document the history of the Americas from 1492 to the mid-1800s. Based on Sabin's Bibliotheca Americana.

American Song     

History database that contains 50,000 tracks that allows people to hear and feel the music from America's past. Will include songs by and about American Indians, miners, immigrants, slaves, children, pioneers, and cowboys. Included are the songs of Civil Rights, political campaigns, Prohibition, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, anti-war protests and more.


Index to finding aids and other descriptive information about the holdings of manuscript and archival collections in libraries and research institutions throughout the world.

Archives Unbound

Presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents, including the records of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the National Negro Business League, Federal Surveillance of African Americans, and more. 

Black Abolitionist Papers  

Primary sources from African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865.

Black Drama   (1850+)  

Full text of plays written by dramatists from Africa, the Caribbean, and North America, and detailed information about productions, theaters, production companies, and other ephemera related to the plays.

The Black Liberation Army and the Program of Armed Struggle (BLA) was an underground, black nationalist-Marxist militant organization that operated from 1970 to 1981. Composed largely of former Black Panthers (BPP), the organization’s program was one of "armed struggle" and its stated goal was to "take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States." The BLA carried out a series of bombings, robberies (what participants termed "expropriations"), and prison breaks. Date range: 1970-1983

Black Nationalism and the Revolutionary Action Movement: The Papers of Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford)  This collection of RAM records reproduces the writings and statements of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and its leaders. It also covers organizations that evolved from or were influenced by RAM and persons that had close ties to RAM. The most prominent organization that evolved from RAM was the African People’s Party. Organizations influenced by RAM include the Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Youth Organization for Black Unity, African Liberation Support Committee, and the Republic of New Africa. Individuals associated with RAM and documented in this collection include Robert F. Williams, Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, General Gordon Baker Jr., Yuri Kochiyama, Donald Freeman, James and Grace Lee Boggs, Herman Ferguson, Askia Muhammad Toure (Rolland Snellings), and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). Date range:  1962-1999

The Black Panthers

Primary sources in PDF from Michigan State University Digital and Multimedia Center.

Black Short Fiction     

Full text of 760 stories and folktales by African, African American, and Caribbean authors.

Black Studies Center  

Scholarly essays and access to articles in Black Studies journals. Combines the Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience, the International Index to Black Periodicals (IIBP), and the full-text of The Chicago Defender, an important Black newspaper with coverage from 1935 to 1975. 

Black Thought and Culture     

Full-text collection of published non-fiction works is included, as well as interviews, journal articles, letters, and other materials of leading African-Americans. Biographical essays by leading scholars and an annotated bibliography of the sources in the database are also featured.

Black Women Writers     

Works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry by women from North America, Africa and the Caribbean.

Caribbean Literature     

Full text of fiction, poetry, essays, plays, and other materials by authors from the Caribbean archipelago.

W.E.B. DuBois Papers

Digitized collection of correspondence, speeches, articles, pamphlets, poetry and other items held at University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Ethnic NewsWatch (1960+)

Interdisciplinary, bilingual (English and Spanish), full-text database of the newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority, and native press.

Federal Response to Radicalism in the 1960s.  Organized alphabetically by organization, this collection covers a wide range of viewpoints on political, social, cultural, and economic issues. It sheds light on internal organization, personnel, and activities of some of the most prominent American radical groups and their movements to change American government and society. Date range: 1956-1971.   

Federal Surveillance of African Americans

Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents. Date range: 1920-1984

The HistoryMakers

Oral history interviews with more than 1,600 historically significant African Americans in fields such as the arts, business, education, entertainment, the law, the military, politics, religion, and science

James Meredith, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Integration of the University of Mississippi.  In the fall of 1962 the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, erupted in violence. At the center of the controversy stood James Meredith, an African American who was attempting to register at the all-white University of Mississippi, known as "Ole Miss." Meredith had the support of the federal government, which insisted that Mississippi honor the rights of all its citizens, regardless of race. Mississippi’s refusal led to a showdown between state and federal authorities and the storming of the campus by a segregationist mob. Two people died and dozens were injured. In the end, Ole Miss, the state of Mississippi, and the nation were forever changed.  Date range: 1961-1962

Mark E. Mitchell Collection of African American History

Digitized highlights of a wide-ranging collection of documents, photographs, and artifacts

The NAACP Papers collection consists of 6 modules. The NAACP Papers collections contains internal memos, legal briefings, and direct action summaries from national, legal, and branch offices throughout the country. It charts the NAACP's work and delivers a first-hand view into crucial issues. With a timeline that runs from 1909 to 1972, the NAACP Papers document the realities of segregation in the early 20th century to the triumphs of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and beyond.The Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century consists of four modules: two modules of Federal Government Records, and two modules of Organizational Records and Personal Papers, offering unique documentation and a variety of perspectives on the 20th century fight for freedom. Major collections in these modules include Civil Rights records from the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush presidencies; the Martin Luther King FBI File and FBI Files on locations of major civil rights demonstrations like Montgomery and Selma, Alabama or St. Augustine, Florida; and the records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

NAACP Papers: Board of Directors, Annual Conferences, Major Speeches, and National Staff Files  

Search this Module  Browse Collections

NAACP Papers: Branch Department, Branch Files, and Youth Department Files  

Search this Module  Browse Collections

NAACP Papers: Special Subjects  Search this Module  Browse Collections

NAACP Papers: The NAACP's Major Campaigns--Education, Voting, Housing, Employment, Armed Forces  

Search this Module  Browse Collections

NAACP Papers: The NAACP's Major Campaigns--Legal Department Files  Search this Module  Browse Collections

NAACP Papers: The NAACP's Major Campaigns--Scottsboro, Anti-Lynching, Criminal Justice, Peonage, Labor,

and Segregation and Discrimination Complaints and Responses 

Search this Module  Browse Collections

The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1949 edition

The Negro Motorist Green Book was a travel guide that listed lodgings, tailors and other businesses that welcomed black patrons during Jim Crow. The guide, which was launched in 1936 and published for nearly 30 years."

Oral History Online     

Provides indexing, plus some full text, for English-language oral histories that are publicly available on the Web and that are held by repositories and archives around the world. Primarily covers 20th-century America, but there is some content for other times and places.

Oxford African American Studies Center   

Provides online access to the finest reference resources in African American studies. At its core, AASC includes the new Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895; the forthcoming companion set, the Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present; the second edition of Black Women in America; and the much-anticipated African American National Biography. Also includes the highly acclaimed Africana, a 5 volume history of the African and African American experience. In addition to these major reference works, AASC offers other key resources from Oxford's reference series, including the Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature.

ProQuest History Vault: Black Freedom 1 Digital Archive   

Primary source material from federal agencies, letters, papers, photographs, scrapbooks, financial records, and diaries are among the unique resources available in digital format for the first time. Module one consists of 37 collections of organizational records and personal papers, and the second module is comprised of 36 collections from federal government agencies.

Scottsboro Boys

Primary sources in PDF from Michigan State University Digital and Multimedia Center.

Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives 1960-1974  

Contains letters, diaries, oral histories, posters, pamphlets, and rare audio and video materials documenting the key events, trends, and movements in 1960's America.

Smithsonian Global Sound   

Smithsonian Global Sound is a virtual encyclopedia of the world's musical and aural traditions. It includes the published recordings owned by the non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label and the archival audio collections of the Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels. It also includes music recorded around the African continent by for the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University as well as material collected by recordists on the South Asian subcontinent from the Archive Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE), sponsored by the American Institute for Indian Studies.

Social Issues Primary Source Collections  (19th Century+)  

Primary source documents focusing on leading social issues for the environment; gender issues and sexuality; human and civil rights; and medicine, health, and bioethics.

Two Plantations  Database comparing family life among enslaved people in Jamaica and Virginia

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database  

“A single multi-source data-set of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

We Were Prepared for the Possibility of Death:" Freedom Riders in the South, 1961 Freedom Riders were civil rights activists that rode interstate buses into the segregated South to test the United States Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia.  Boynton had outlawed racial segregation in the restaurants and waiting rooms in terminals serving buses that crossed state lines. Five years prior to the Boynton ruling, the Interstate Commerce Commission had issued a ruling inSarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company that had explicitly denounced the Plessy v. Fergusondoctrine of separate but equal in interstate bus travel, but the ICC had failed to enforce its own ruling, and thus Jim Crow travel laws remained in force throughout the South.  Date range: 1961

Women and Social Movements in the United States 1600-2000)  

Collection of full-text primary and secondary sources.  To find material by and about African American women use the Search feature to limit results to texts, people, or movements.

Newspapers and Periodicals

Other resources to locate primary sources