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COMM 6910/8980: Politics of Injury: Trauma Communication (and Law) (Tim Barouch: Summer 2020): Finding Primary Sources

Evaluating Primary-Source Sites

Questions to ask when you are assessing online primary-source collections:

  • Who is the author or creator of the page/site? Is there an institution involved? What is the name of the institution?
  • What are the credentials of the author or institution (what qualifies the author or institution to present these sources objectively? Do they represent a university? A library? An individual?)
  • Who sponsors the site? Is there information about funding?

Use Google and other sources to research the authors, organizations, or institutions responsible for the page and for its funding. Don't just trust the About page!

  • What is the purpose of the site - To inform? To entertain? To sell you something? To argue for a certain point of view?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Are the sources cited? Where did the author(s) get the information?
  • Can the information on the page be verified with other sources? 
  • How current is the information? How recently has the website been updated?**
    (**This question may be less important for historians looking for historical primary sources.

Questions about Legal History Research?


The GSU Law Library is your best starting point for legal-history questions 

Their Reference Collection has many good sources for legal information.

You can also direct specific questions about legal research to a reference librarian at the Law Library.

Searching for Digital Collections

Many libraries and organizations are making digital materials available online.

To find these collections, use this search string in Google or another search engine, in addition to keywords relevant to your topic, for example:

digital collection library slavery atlantic

You can also try the same search limiting to site:org rather than site:edu BUT:

Be careful!

EDU = educational institution
ORG = organization, which can mean almost ANY kind of noncorporate organization. If you aren't familiar with the organization, do some research on it! Who are they? What do they promote? Are they reliable?

In this era of "fake news," don't just trust the information you see on a website's "About Us" tab or page.
Google the organization and learn more about them
from other sources


* * *

For more information about evaluating websites, see the Evaluating Information tab, above.

What Is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are materials in a variety of formats, created at the time under study, that serve as evidence documenting a time period, event, people, idea, or work. Primary sources can be:

  • printed materials (such as books and ephemera)
  • manuscript/archival materials (such as diaries or ledgers)
  • audio/visual materials (such as recordings or films)
  • artifacts (such as clothes or personal belongings)
  • born digital materials (such as emails or digital photographs)

Primary sources can be found in analog, digitized, and born-digital forms.

(Definition from the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy developed by the SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on the Development of Guidelines for Primary Source Literary, approved on June 2018)

Datasets and other forms of quantitative evidence can also be considered as primary source material. (For assistance with finding and using datasets, please consult our Research Data Services team).

Generally, a secondary source is scholarly work that draws on primary sources as its evidence. Different disciplines may have varying definitions of primary and secondary sources, and/or different ways of understanding the relationships between primary and secondary sources.

Because academic honesty requires a scholar to cite their sources, a secondary source on your topic can be a useful way to begin identifying primary sources for your own work. If you've found a relevant scholarly book or article, look at its references to see what kinds of primary sources it cites.

Selected Newspaper Databases

For full information about our newspaper holdings, and information about locating other current/historical newspapers, see our Newspapers research guide.

Other Primary-Source Databases Available @ GSU

Not a comprehensive list! Check out our A-Z list of databases. 

Looking for Resources on a Particular State?

Many state-based libraries and organizations are digitizing materials relating to the their state.

The Library of Congress has assembled this list of state digital libraries. Search by state, or check out the Multi-State options.

Other News Databases

GSU Special Collections & Archives: COVID-19 Information

The GSU Special Collections & Archives' reading room and gallery are closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the physical facilities are closed, you can still use their online collections and finding aids or contact an archivist for help.