Primary Sources

NewBank's Black Life in America

Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Mar 15, 2024

Students of all ages are tasked by their instructors to track down relevant primary sources for academic research papers.  These assignments can be both thrilling and stressful.  You must pick a topic, learn what and where to research, write the paper, and cite your sources.  I have a master’s degree in English, so I’ve been there.  The struggle is real.  The Johnson County Library offers patrons free access to several online databases spanning various disciplines to satisfy your academic research needs— and hopefully alleviate some of the stress.  Several of these databases will even automatically generate citations in various styles, including MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association).   

What is a primary source?  According to Harvard Library, “Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation.  They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documents.  Often these sources are created at the time when events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.  Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of the format available.  Examples of primary sources:  Original documents (excerpts or translations acceptable)— diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, contemporary newspaper articles, autobiographies, official records, pamphlets, meeting notes, census or economic statistics, photographs, contemporary sketches.  Creative works— Poetry, drama, novels, music, art.  Relics or artifacts— Furniture, clothing, buildings.”  

The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank, for example, is one of the most well-known primary resources people read to learn about the history and horrors of the Holocaust.  It’s the first-hand testimony, in diary form, of Anne Frank, a European Jew who hid for two years with her family to avoid Nazi persecution. She recorded her fears, hopes, and experiences. 

Where do you find primary resources on the Johnson County Library’s website?  There are two research databases provided by NewsBank, inc.: Black Life in America and Hispanic Life in America and twelve research databases provided by Gale Primary Sources. To access these databases, go to the Johnson County Library’s website, select “Research,” then select “Databases A-Z,” then select “B” for Black Life in America, or “H” for Hispanic Life in America, or “G” for Gale Research Databases.  

Databases provided by NewsBank, inc.: 

Black Life in America is a primary resource collection that focuses on the experience and impact of African Americans as recorded by the news media, spanning the early 18th century to the modern era. Articles, blogs, videos, audio recordings and more are sourced from more than 19,000 American and global news sources, including over 400 current and historical Black publications.  Black Life in America educates researchers on the profound impact people of African descent have had on American history and culture from the early days of slavery to modern times. Examples of topical categories include slavery and flights to freedom, voting rights, voter suppression and disfranchisement, segregation and civil rights, prejudice and discrimination, activism and protest movements, organizations, notable people, religion, science and technology, and literature and the arts. NewsBanks’s Black Life in America is an essential source for researchers working in Black Studies and Literature.  

Hispanic Life in America is a primary resource collection that focuses on the experience and impact of Hispanic Americans as recorded by the new media. It spans the early Spanish settlements of the 18th century to the modern era. Articles, blogs, videos, audio recordings and more are sourced from more than 17,000 American and global news sources, including over 700 Spanish-language or bilingual publications. Hispanic Life in America educates researchers on how people of Spanish-speaking heritage— from the earliest days of the colonial era through modern times— have shaped the geography, arts, culture, and civil discourse of the United States in immeasurable ways. Many topical categories are covered, such as arts and entertainment, civil rights and activism, immigration and citizenship, sports and athletes, labor, religion, science and technology, organizations, notable people, and society and culture. NewsBank’s Hispanic Life in America is an essential source for researchers working in Hispanic Studies.  

Databases provided by Gale Primary Sources: Since there are twelve databases in Gale Primary Resources, I’m only going to highlight two that match my personal interests.  I recommend exploring Gale Primary Sources to see all the disciplines for ones that might match your interests or area(s) of study. 

Indigenous Peoples of North America is a primary resource collection that enables exploration of the political, social, and cultural history of native peoples from the sixteenth century well into the twentieth century. This collection covers the history of the American Indian tribes and supporting organizations in a comprehensive yet personal way.  Topical categories include trade and communication, Arctic exploration and tribes, the Iroquois Confederation, Canadian Catholic Indian missions, Indian removal, Indian wars and the frontier army, establishment of the Canadian Indian and Aboriginal Department, Indian delegations and Indian-federal relations, Canadian Indian treaty policy, government boarding and missionary schools and curricula, Dawes Severalty and the allotment system, dances and festivals, Alaskan Indian policies, Indian languages and linguistics, assimilation and the Indian New Deal, relocation, termination, the Indian Claims Commission, water and fishing rights, civil rights, radicalism, poverty, and the American Indian movement. Gale’s Indigenous Peoples of North America is an essential source for researchers working in Indigenous Studies.   

Women’s Studies Archive is a primary resource featuring documents that present the roles, history, experiences and achievements of women in 19th and 20th century society through articles, diaries, speeches, images and more from across the globe. Much of history is one-sided, predominately focusing on the male perspective and leaving women’s voices unheard. This archive brings women’s stories to light.   It focuses on the evolution of feminism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and covers topical categories related to women’s political activism, such as suffrage, birth control, pacifism, civil rights, socialism, and mental health. By affording the opportunity to witness female perspectives, Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive is an essential source for researchers working in Women’s History, Gender Studies, Literature, and Social History.  

Now that you are armed with reliable research tools and information, all you need is a topic.  If you learn best by observing, visit any of our branches to get a live tutorial from one of our knowledgeable librarians.  We will have you ready to tackle any academic challenge with bolstered confidence and research skills.  These databases are not just for student use.  If you enjoy the act of learning, they are for you too.  Well...what are you waiting for?  Start exploring and see what historical gems you unearth.   

Reviewed by Karyn H
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