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WRI 135/ 136: Answering the Call

Primary Sources

A primary source is part of the object of your analysis. In the case of WRI 135/136, the object of your analysis will be social, political and/or cultural phenomena related to heroism. Your primary sources will be the documents through which you will examine these phenomena. Examples of likely primary sources for assignments in this course are verbal documents such as parliamentary or congressional proceedings and transcripts; caselaw; legislative documents; survey data; journalistic articles in newspapers and magazines; memoirs; postings on blogs and social media sites. Documents in other media, such as film or broadcast footage, radio broadcasts or podcasts, oral histories, pictorial or photographic images may also be valuable primary sources. Depending on the focus of your project and the nature of your approach, you may also choose to work with aesthetic texts, such as fictional prose narratives, feature films and dramatic works. This page provides links to resources useful for locating different types of primary sources.

For identifying and locating US Congressional documents, including bills and draft bills, ProQuest Congressional will in most cases be the best resource. It may also be worthwhile to consult this guide to resources for research related to the workings of Congress. For legislative documents from other countries, consult the librarian for the class. For caselaw the best resource is Westlaw Next Campus Research, For survey returns and other statistical data, consult this Data and Statistical Services guide.

Large aggregator indexing databases like ProQuest Central and EBSCO Academic Search Premier index journalistic content such as newspaper and magazine articles. Be aware that these databases default to search a subset of their components. If you want to cast a wider net, open the database lists and select all for a more comprehensive search. The interfaces allow you to filter search results by type of publication, including the option to limit searches to newspaper and magazine articles. If you're looking for newspaper articles from before the 1980's or 1990's, the best resource is ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

If you're looking for primary sources in the form of literary works - including playscripts, or other published texts - or films - the Princeton University Library Catalog is your logical first stop. Note, however, that Princeton's collections are only a part of the resources available to you as Princeton students. To look beyond Princeton to get a broader picture of the existing relevant source material for your project, searching WorldCat is the best option. More often than not when you identify materials in WorldCat that Princeton doesn't have in its collections, there are ways those materials can be made available to you. For more information on this see the Books page in the Secondary Source section of this guide. If you're interested in short stories as primary source material, the Short Story Index allows you to search for short stories by theme and other parameters. WorldCat is also the best first resource to use when searching for oral histories or other audiovisual recordings.

For broadcast transcripts the best databases are Factiva and LexisNexis. For information on locating broadcast footage and recordings, refer to this Television, radio and documentary film Research Guide.

For blogs and social media and other Web content, a general-purpose search engine like Google - or directly accessing social media sites such as facebook or Twitter is usually the most efficient method.Google Blog Search does a good job of indexing blogs.

For various categories of statistics and datasets (e.g. election results, polling results, public opinion data, financial and economics data, other sociological data) use Princeton University Library's Data and Statistical Services portal.

In some cases library catalogs and indexing databases are not the best instruments for identifying primary sources relevant to a particular topic or interest. This is especially true for aesthetic texts or objects. In academic or discursive writing, univocality, or a single clearly defined topic or purpose, is a virtue, and amiguity – a failure. For cultural artifacts, and espcially for aesthetic texts or objects, the inverse is true; their ability to interweave a multiplicity of themes and motifs and to accommodate multiple readings and interpretations is evidence of their richness and complexity, and a single unequivocally declared topic or meaning registers as a kind of artistic poverty. This means that secondary sources like academic books and articles are easy to classify and catalog thematically, while works of art and literature and other cultural artifacts often do not lend themselves to this kind of thematic taxonomy. If you’ve chosen a broader topic and are still looking for primary sources, the best strategy may be to begin by looking for secondary sources and use these to identify relevant primary source material of interest.

A note about using blogs and other forms of amateur publishing and broadcasting (e.g. social media, YouTube videos, etc.) as primary source material for this kind of academic project. It’s important to establish some selection criteria if you plan to present these kinds of amateur publications as to some extent representative of broader phenomena. The Internet is an essentially chaotic publication and communication space where almost anyone can publish almost anything, and most of the material here doesn’t come with any documented impact or reception. Therefore, if you plan to posit particular Web publications - such as a websites, blogs or videos - as evidence to support broader claims, it’s important to apply some rigorous selection criteria, such as Web traffic metrics or information on visitor or follower populations.