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Literatures in English: Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original artifacts or documents. They are usually defined as first hand information that are communicated by witnesses or participants in past events. They also include original creative works such as poetry, fiction, and plays. Primary sources are characterized not by their format but rather by the information they convey and their relationship to your research question.

Examples of primary sources include, but are not limited to:

  • Diaries and literary memoirs
  • Letters/correspondence
  • Artistic works (musical and visual arts)
  • News segments/transcripts
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Editorials
  • Legal documents and statistics 
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Experiment results
  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Fieldwork
  • Emails/ blogs/ listservs
  • Creative writing
  • Audio and video

About our collections

Photograph of boxes and books on shelves in the CU Boulder Archives

The first CU Boulder Archive was founded by the History Department in 1918 to collect material related to Western American history. In the 100+ years since, our archival holdings have grown to include around 1700 unique collection, housed within Norlin Library and overseen by the Libraries' Rare and Distinctive Collections team.

These collections comprise:

         - Around 50,000 linear feet of material

        - Over 1,000,000 photographs, slides, and negatives

        - Nearly 5,000 film reels

        - Roughly 12,000 sound and video recordings maps, posters, published books and periodicals, and many other types of material. 


Our collecting areas have also expanded, often according to the research interests of CU faculty and departments. Our specialty areas now include: 

CU Boulder history History of natural science and the environment Labor and national labor rights movements*
Colorado politics and politicians Water and water rights* Atomic West - referring to nuclear production and anti-nuclear protesting
Rocky Mountain counterculture and social change International human rights organizations* Experimental film and video

* Though we hold robust collections of material in these areas, we are not actively collecting new material on these subjects.

In addition, the CU Boulder Libraries holds the Post-Holocaust American Judaism Collections, in partnership with the CU Boulder Program in Jewish Studies, which focus on religious, cultural, and social movements of American Judaism since the late 1940s.

In collaboration with the College of Music, we hold the archival collections of the American Music Research Center, with collections related to music of the American West, American popular song, music of the silent film era, swing-era jazz, and New England Colonial tunebooks. 


Digital Primary Sources by Genre

Digital Primary Sources by Time Period

Historic Newspaper Databases

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Archives contain primary sources such as letters, records, and other documents, organized into collections, that can be navigated by finding aids. You may need to first figure out which archive may have collections relevant to your search.

Featured Digital Archives