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Scholarly Research for Theatre Design @ PITT: Primary Sources

A Resource Guide for Theatre Design Students

Historical Newspapers @ PITT

Three Types of Sources

There are three types of sources:

1) Primary Sources

  • Original materials that provide direct evidence or first-hand testimony concerning a topic or event.
  • Primary sources can be contemporary sources created at the time when the event occurred (e.g., letters and newspaper articles) or later (e.g., memoirs and oral history interviews).
  • Primary sources may be published or unpublished.  Unpublished sources are unique materials (e.g., family papers) often referred to as archives and manuscripts.
  • What constitutes a primary source varies by discipline. How the researcher uses the source generally determines whether it is a primary source or not.

2) Secondary Sources

  • Works that interpret, analyze, and discuss the evidence provided by primary sources (e.g., scholarly books and articles).
  • Secondary sources are generally a second-hand account or observation at least one step removed from the event.
  • Secondary sources, however, can be considered to be primary sources depending on the context of their use. For example, Ken Burns' documentary of the Civil War is a secondary source for Civil War researchers, but a primary source for those studying documentary filmmaking.

3) Tertiary Sources

  • Books or articles that synthesize or distill primary and secondary sources, often in a convenient, easy-to-read form (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, and textbooks).

Historical Digital Collections @ Pitt

Search the library's many subscription databases to find primary source materials on your topic, including:

Google News Archives

Google has scanned & made available thousands of local, regional and foreign newspapers.  Search a time period or region, or browse newspapers by title.

Tools for Finding Primary Sources

    Reference & Other Print Sources.  Search PITTCat+ to find primary source materials at ULS libraries.  Make use of the many excellent print resources that are available to find primary source materials.  These include:

    • Bibliographies
    • Film, Literature, and Periodical Indexes
    • Biographical Resources
    • Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Handbooks
    • Secondary Sources (search the text, footnotes, and bibliographies for references to primary sources used)

    Internet Search Engines

    • Use the Internet to find primary source materials by adding primary source specific terms (see Searching PITTCat+) to a Search Engine search. For example, "Civil War + Pennsylvania soldiers + diaries."