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Course & Subject Guides

A Guide to Primary Sources at the Archives Service Center: Archives & Primary Sources

Designed to assist researchers who are using the archival collections at the Archives Service Center.

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 Archives are unique, unpublished resources that are not availalbe anywhere else.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

Photographs As First-Hand Accounts Of An Event

This was how Pittsburgh looked at noon ca.1940, before smoke control laws (Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940-1950, AIS.1978.22, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh)

P.L. Prattis, executive editor of the influential Pittsburgh Courier, meeting with US Army Generals during WWII (Percival L. Prattis Papers, 1916-1980, AIS.2007.01, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh)

What Are Archives?

Archives are any material that been identified as having a lasting historical value. These items document the lives and activities of people, associations, businesses, and university departments. They were given to the archives, most often by the people who created them, so that they could be preserved and made available to others. The material held at the ASC is organized and stored differently than in a library. Archival material is organized into manuscript collections or records groups. The size of these collections may be as small as a single item or large enough to fill hundreds of boxes. These materials are non-circulating and must be used only at the ASC.

Example Of Archival Manuscript

Notice the small handwritten entries? This is what an archival manuscript looks like. It is up to you to read the document and interpret it's meaning!