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Course & Subject Guides

Civil War to WWI in American Literature – Oakland Campus: Using Primary Sources: Home

This online guide was created to support students reading and wishing to incorporate primary sources into their research in ENGLIT 1220 Civil War to WWI in American Literature.

What is a Primary Source?

What Are Primary Sources In Archives?

Pittsburgh Waste Book and Fort Pitt Trading Post Papers, 1757-1765, DAR.1925.03, Darlington Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh

Archives are what is known as primary sources because they provide a first-hand account of an event by someone who witnessed it or experienced it. They are materials that were created by a person, but has not been interpreted by others. Archives are unique, unpublished resources that are not availalbe anywhere else. Some examples of primary sources in our collections are as follows:


  • Correspondence- Letter from Andrew Carnegie to Henry Clay Frick, February 2, 1889. Writing from New York, Carnegie discusses a labor strike and advises Frick on how to approach the wage dispute. He also discusses legal troubles between South Pennsylvania [Railroad] and Pennsylvania Railroad.


  • Diary- Raymond DiBello Diary, 1960-1964. Raymond DiBello was a steel mill worker and amateur writer who lived in the Pittsburgh area. This diary contains daily entries, two to three sentences in length, from 1960 through 1964. The topics covered include religion, books, friends, women, and DiBello's writing career. DiBello, a supporter of John F. Kennedy, devoted several entries from November, 1963 on the topic of the president's assassination.


  • Ledger and Account Books- Pittsburgh Waste Book and Fort Pitt Trading Post Papers, 1757-1765. This ledger is reputed to be the first known merchant's account book written in Pittsburgh. The book contains accounts and transactions taking place at Fort Pitt. The ledger details the dates, goods, quantities, and prices for trading and also records names of traders. Native American trade was conducted either directly with tribes or through agents.


  • Film- University Archives Moving Images Collection, ca.1928-2001. Edward R. Murrow interviews Jonas Salk on "See It Now."


  • Sound Recording- State and Local Government Archives Oral History Collection, 1996-2002. Interview with former Mayor of Pittsburgh, Sophie Masloff, 1998.


  • Photograph- Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca.1940s-1950

About Your Assignment:

After you have browsed the online archives, choose 1-3 primary sources that you find particularly relevant and/or revelatory to your understanding of Life in the Iron Mills. Compose a 500-word account in which you both describe and convey the significance of the source(s) you’ve chosen. You can write in any style you choose—as an historian, a poet, an essayist, a filmmaker, etc. What does putting the source(s) into dialogue with Life in the Iron Mills make visible or present that reading either on its own would not? How can you most compellingly share this with your readers (which include your classmates as well as your instructor)? What new questions has this work raised for you? Be sure to quote directly from Life in the Iron Mills and from the primary source(s).