Kinds of Primary Sources

Books.  Find books (and other resources) in HOLLIS and WorldCat

Periodicals come in the following types: Magazines, Academic -Disciplinary, Professional/Trade, Newspapers, Graphic Novels/ Commics

Personal accounts. These are first person narratives recalling or describing a person’s life and opinions. These include diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and when delivered orally and recorded: Oral histories and Interviews.

Archives and Manuscripts comprise originally unpublished writings or records produced by an individual (personal papers) or an organization in their activities.  Organizations producing archives may be governments (national, state, local), NGOs, corporations, universities.  They may reside with their producing bodies or may have been added to an archival repository.  You typically have to go to the repository to use them.

Government Documents  (National, State, Local) are publications produced for public distribution (unlike archival sources).  We give instructions on finding them in this guide United States, US foreign relations, US state and local, and foreign government documents. 

Historical Statistics.  Most countries publish series of demographic, economic and other statistics.  Statistics are also gathered by non-governmental agencies, including international organizations.  Tools for finding them listed in this guide.   Sample HOLLIS Library Catalog search

Public Opinion. Surveys are available that gauge public opinion on numerous topics.  Instructions for finding them in this guide. Sample HOLLIS Library Catalog search. For the opinion of a particular group of people use the Subject term: Attitudes - Sample HOLLIS Library Catalog search.

Law:  Legal sources include:Laws, Case law: Appeals court opinions, Trial transcripts or accounts 

Gray Literature refers to reports produced and published by governmental or non-governmental agencies (think tanks, research institutes) but not published via the usual commercial or academic channels.  Think tank publications often offer the views of particular ideological groups. They may be studies of policy (often called working papers) or technical studies (called technical reports)

Country, State, and Local Information.  Information about a particular country, state or city/town at a particular time is available via a variety of sources including: Annual country reference publication series, State and Local Government documents, Travelers’ writings, and guidebooks.City directories

Literary Works: literary works and works of literary scholarship  are listed in the research guide: Literary Research in Harvard Libraries.

Images.  Harvard has numerous collections of images which are best searched via HOLLIS Images.  Tools for finding them listed in this guide.

Film.  As well as entertainment films, there are documentary films and newsreels. Tools for finding them listed in this guide.  The Library has a guide for streaming video.

Broadcast. Much news is distributed via radio and TV.  Tools for finding broadcast news, radio and TV listed in this guide.

Material.  Much historical evidence resides in material objects.  Find what Harvard has with a form/genre search in HOLLIS (HOLLIS Library Catalog Example - note that we exclude Visual in the search). We have a draft (unfinished) guide to American material culture.  Links to Harvard museums.



United States Press

Chronicling America, enhancing access to historic American newspapers  (Library of Congress) includes a searchable newspaper directory (1690-present) which can be limited by ethnicity and/or occupation (for the labor press).

The Boston Public Library has (had) a guide to digitized newspaper directories.

N.W. Ayer & Son's directory of newspapers and periodicals [title varies], 1880-1982.
LOCATION: Widener: AL 6.3 (1880-1881, 1903, 1905, 1907, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1917, 1919-1923, 1926-1929, 1931-1932, 1934-1935, 1938-1969, 1970-1982))

Includes circulation statistics. In a section (usually called Lists, Classifications or Subject Indexes) after the main geographical sequence are lists of agricultural, college, foreign language, Black (early called colored, then Negro), religious, fraternal (early called secret societies), trade and technical (including scientific and medical), and labor publications which carry advertising. The foregoing categories may have their own headings or may be included, with many others, within the Trade, Technical and Class section.

Full text online, 1869-1919

Continued by:
Gale directory of publications [title varies], 1983- .
LOCATION: Widener: Harvard Depository WID-LC PN4855.Z99 I47x
HOLLIS record for 1983-85, 1987-89
HOLLIS record for 1990-


The conservative press in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century America, ed. by Ronald Lora and William Henry Longton. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, 401 p.
Widener | WID-LC | PN4888.C598 C66 1999

The conservative press in twentieth-century America, ed. by Ronald Lora and William Henry Longton. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, 729 p.
Widener | WID-LC | PN4888.C598 C664 1999


American mass-market magazines, ed. by Alan Nourie and Barbara Nourie. NY: Greenwood Press, 1990, 611 p.
Widener | RR655.25

Consumer magazines of the British Isles, ed. by Sam G. Riley. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993, 300 p.
Widener | RR655.316.5


Index to city and regional magazines of the United States, by Sam G. Riley and Gary W. Selnow. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989, 130 p.
Widener | WID-LC | PN4877.Z99 R55 1989x

Index to Southern periodicals, by Sam G. Riley. NY: Greenwood Press, 1986. 459 p.
Widener | WID-LC | PN4893.Z99 R54 x, 1986

Magazines of the American South, by Sam G. Riley. NY: Greenwood Press, 1986, 346 p.
Widener | WID-LC | PN4893 .R54 1986

Regional interest magazines of the United States, ed. by Sam G. Riley and Gary W. Selnow. NY: Greenwood Press, 1991, 418 p.
Widener | RR655.25.7

News Database

Comics & Graphic Novels

American humor magazines and comic periodicals, ed. by David E.E. Sloane. NY: Greenwood Press, 1987, 648 p.
Widener | WID-LC | PN4880 .A46 1987

Oral History

Oral History in HOLLIS and WorldCat

To find oral histories in HOLLIS or WorldCat search: topical keyword (or Subject term) AND (interviews OR "oral histor*"); search (interviews OR "oral histor*") as Subject keyword.

Online Full Text

Oral History Online indexes oral history collections, with links to interview-level bibliographic records and to full-text materials, audio files and visual files where these are available.

Civil Rights History Project offers inventory of oral-history interviews with participants in the civil rights movement held in libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, and other institutions. Links to catalog records and finding aids.

Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, 1960-1974 includes letters, diaries, and oral histories, together with posters, broadsides, pamphlets, advertisements, and audio and video materials.

Black Women Oral History Project. Interviews, 1976-1981 (inclusive). 72 interview transcripts, 353 reels of audiotape.
Schlesinger  |  OH-31; T-32 Digitized items   Brief description in HOLLIS record

Link Collections

Digital Oral History Projects

Centers and Collections (OHA)

Television, Documentary Film and Newsreel E-Resources

American Film Institute Catalog covers the history of American cinema comprehensively from 1893 to 1975, with full or short records for films from 1976 to present. Every film produced on American soil or by American production companies is indexed. In Advanced Search, under Genre, you can limit to Documentary.

Research Guides


Digitalia Film Library offers streaming video of films and documentaries from Latin America, Europe and North America. Special collections feature Argentine, French, and North American classic cinema.

Film Platform offers documentary films on a wide variety of subjects.  There are collections on several topics. Searches can be filtered by topic, country of production, and language.

Filmmakers Library Online includes documentaries in the humanities and social science, including race and gender studies, human rights, globalization and global studies, multiculturalism, international relations, criminal justice, the environment, bioethics, health, political science and current events, psychology, arts, literature.

HistoryMakers: African American oral video history archive

Ideas Roadshow offers in-depth conversations with a wide variety of scholars and scientists

Kanopy is a streaming video service for universities that offers over 26,000 titles on a broad range of subjects including anthropology, architecture, art, gender & race, environment & sustainability, health, law, media, politics and psychology/sociology.

The March of Time: Series of Time Inc. newsreels, produced 1935-1967, presented as a blend of confrontational journalism and docudrama, often using actors to stage events, presented in online streaming video. Synchronized, searchable transcripts run alongside each video; playlist functionality lets users create, annotate, and organize clips and include links to other content; permanent URLs let users cite and share videos, playlists, and clips.

World History in Video offers over 1,750 documentaries, covering antiquity to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

World Newsreels Online, 1929-1966. English, French or Japanese with English transcripts.

TV Programs Online

NBC Learn includes digitized stories from the NBC News archives -- one of the largest news archives in the world, dating back to the 1920s.  Collections are updated daily with stories from NBC Nightly News, the TODAY show, Meet the Press, Dateline NBC, as well as the MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo networks. There are 26 subject areas.

New World Cinema includes independent features and shorts, 1990–present

PBS Video Collection offers  streaming access from PBS documentary films and series, including American Experience, American Masters, Empires, Frontline, History Detectives, NOVA, Odyssey, films of Ken Burns and Michael Wood.

Television News Archive (Vanderbilt University) (1968-) is the guide to the network television news programs collection at Vanderbilt University. Since August 5, 1968, the Archive has recorded, abstracted, and indexed national television newscasts. Individuals can search the abstracts by keyword to find information and/or request videotape loans. Online video is available for CNN news broadcasts from October 1995 to the present.

Library of Congress Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division holds vast numbers of films. Most are not available online, but copies can sometimes be purchased. Many of these films are available through American Memory and the Prelinger Archives of "ephemeral" (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films in the Internet Archive (select Search Moving Images). If the film you want is not evident on the LC website, enquire directly as the collection is not fully cataloged.

Museum of Broadcast Communications offers the Encyclopedia of Television which includes articles on television programs, personalities and other topics witrh references.

Internet Archive includes films, radio audio clips, news clips, educational films, advertisements, industry films, etc.

For news programs see Broadcasting/Newsreels in News Sources.

American Archive of Public Broadcasting offers American public radio and television content dating back to the 1950s.

NBCUniversal Archives

American Archive of Public Broadcasting offers American public radio and television content dating back to the 1950s.​

AdViews: A Digital Archive of Vintage Television Commercials (1950s-1980s). Note that Sub-Collections breaks the collection down by individual company.


American Radio Archives collection

Radio Advertising in the 1920s and 1930s

Selling Stuff During the Golden Age of Radio The Online Radio & TV Library offers an enormous collection of radio/TV magazines.

ProQuest - Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive

Ratings, Statistics The Online Radio & TV Library offers ratings (Arbitron and other statistics).

Maps & Visualizations

The Harvard Map Collection contains one of the world’s finest collections of maps. Although their atlases are in HOLLIS, many of their individual maps are not. Som a visit is useful. As well as political and topographic maps, they have numerous thematic maps which map demographic, social, and economic other features.


Government Data Sources

US Data

  • ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research)

Data Series Online ( 

Bibliographies, Encylclopedia & Indexes

Background & Context