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Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies: Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs).  They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer.  Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.

See the Finding Historical Primary Sources Library Guide for a comprehensive guide to locating primary sources.

See associated pages on

Archives (archival collections at local institutions and beyond),

Digital Collections (digital archives on Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies) 

Newspapers (information on how to access historical newspapers).

Primary Sources

Primary sources can be found in a variety of library tools:

For specific search strategies, see the Library's Guide to Finding Historical Primary Sources

Learn more about your topic in advance:

  • names of relevant individuals and organizations
  • dates of events
  • places
  • what terminology was used at the time by participants and observers? (ex:  negro or colored instead of african american)

Use the bibliographies of secondary sources and reference sources to find citations to specific primary sources; search OskiCat to locate them on campus, or ask for assistance at the Library.

Primary Source Resources at UC Berkeley and Beyond

Below are institutions and collections at UC Berkeley where Ethnic Studies-related primary source material can be viewed. 

  • Bancroft Library (see Archives for more information) The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library at the University of California, Berkeley. One of the largest and most heavily used libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and unique materials in the United States, Bancroft supports major research and instructional activities and plays a leading role in the development of the University's research collections. We are located on the east side of Doe Library, just northwest of the Campanile.
  • Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives Film Library & Study Center  In addition to providing access to the more than 14,000 films and videos in the collection, the Library and Film Study Center also makes a wide range of film-related materials available to the public for research purposes. Its collections include more than 8,000 books, 150 journal titles, 7,500 posters, 35,000 stills, and 1,500 audiotapes of filmmakers who have appeared at BAMPFA, as well as screenplays, international film festival programs, and distributors’ catalogs. The library’s largest and most heavily used collection comprises some 95,000 documentation files containing film reviews, press kits, and articles on filmmakers, performers, national cinemas, genres, and other topics. Some materials from the documentation files are available online through CineFiles. BAMPFA has a collection of Asian Pacific American film and clippings including the Asian Pacific American film, video and audio collection 1995-1996.
  • Chinese American Early Arrival Records Search at Bancroft Library  A database searchable by name of early arrival records. During the period of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its successors (1882-1943), the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) investigated or interrogated most non-whites arriving or departing through the ports of San Francisco and Honolulu. A typical investigation case file contains the individual's name, place and date of birth, appearance, occupation, names and relationships of other family members, and family history. Specific INS proceedings are also documented. Because of the nature of INS investigations, case files also provide links to file numbers for related cases, including those of other family members.
  • C.V. Starr East Asian Library has vast collections of archival and primary source materials related to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean history. 
  • Directory of Ethnic and Multicultural Archives and Special Collections Directory of Ethnic and Multicultural Archives: A directory of collections that document diversity through history strives to recognize collections that highlight diversity, with the hope that organizing and describing these collections in a central location increases discovery of the collections for information professionals, students, instructors, and researchers.
  • Environmental Design Archives The Environmental Design Archives is committed to raising awareness of the significant architectural and landscape heritage of Northern California and beyond through collecting, preserving, and providing access to the primary records of the built environment of the region and landscaped environment of the world. The work of most of the San Francisco Bay Region's historically significant architects and landscape architects are represented in the collections of more than 200 architects and firms. These collections contain drawings, plans, specifications, photographs, audio-tapes, personal papers, business records, furniture, art, models, and artifacts. The Environmental Design Archives provides primary source material for scholarly research, teaching support, preservation, and public service, and actively encourages and promotes the use of its collections.
  • National Archives Guide to Research on Ethnic Heritage
  • National Archives Guide to Records for the Study of Ethnic History in the National Archives at San Francisco
  • National Archives Japanese American Relocation and Internment  A guide to resources at the National Archives and Records Administration on Japanese American relocation and internment.
  • Nuts and bolts : A Guide to Researching Japanese American Internment in the Bancroft Library / Prepared by Lynne Horiuchi. A guide to researching Japanese American internment in the Bancroft Library prepared by Lynne Horiuchi in 2002. 

Selected Databases for Primary Sources

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