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LING 155AC: Language in the United States: Getting Started


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

A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. It is generally at least one step removed from the event is often based on primary sources. Examples include: scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, and textbooks.

To find secondary sources in book form, use UC Library Search (about). To find articles that are secondary sources, search an article database, such as America: History and Life (US and Canada) or Historical Abstracts (world history).

Where are Primary Sources at UCB?

Primary sources may be physically located in any of a number of UC Berkeley Libraries, or they may be available online.

Archives are collections of original unpublished, historical and contemporary material – in other words, primary sources. Before you go to any archival collection on campus you can save time and effort if you first:

  • Note the hours of each location. Explore that library's website and any special use conditions that may apply (registration, lockers, appointments, materials that need to be recalled from storage, restrictions on duplication, etc.)
  • BEFORE YOU GO:  Use UC Library Search to find the titles and call numbers of specific items.
  • If you need to use manuscript collections, look to see if the collection has a finding aid. Some finding aids list the contents of collections, box by box, folder by folder; others are less detailed. Some finding aids are available online via the Online Archive of California (the primary source itself may or may not be available online).

Please remember that not all primary sources are located in archives. Use UC Library Search (about) and article databases and ask for assistance.

Primary sources on campus may be in their original format; examples might include:

Some primary sources have been reproduced in another format, for instance:

Online primary sources may be found via free web sites as well as via Library databases.

To Know Before You Search

Think about what types of primary sources might have been produced that would be relevant to your topic; think also about which persons or organizations might have produced materials. Some possible types of sources:

Books Photographs and images
Magazine and newspaper articles Cartoons and advertisements
Diaries and journals Movies, videos, DVDs
Memoirs and autobiographies Audio recordings
Interviews Public opinion polls
Letters Fiction
Speeches Research data and statistics
Documents produced by organizations Documents produced by government agencies, including congressional hearings and census records

Finding Background Information

Gather the information you have about your topic and consider what you still need to know before you start researching. You can use this information in searching for primary sources.

  • Dates
  • Places
  • Names of persons involved
  • Names of organizations, government agencies, societies, etc.

Reference works and secondary sources can help you find background information on your topic. You may find reference sources by:

  • browsing the reference collection at the appropriate campus library
  • searching by the appropriate subject headings and adding additional subject terms such as:  encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies. Examples:  
    • Indians of north america encyclopedias
    • women diaries bibliography

The Bancroft Library - Overview

The Bancroft Library is one of the treasures of the campus, and one of the world's great libraries for the history of Bancroft Library interiorthe American West. Hours and floor plan showing location (2nd floor Doe Library)

Some Bancroft materials are available online via Calisphere, which includes primary sources  from many California libraries and museums.

How to Use the Bancroft Library

Before you go:

1.  Be prepared! Read secondary sources and know something about your topic.

2.  You must register with the Aeon software to use the Bancroft Library. You may register online in advance.

2.  Search UC Library Search. You can limit your  search to find materials at the Bancroft Library, instead of all campus libraries (in the list of search results, choose the Library filter > Bancroft Library). Remember that there are primary sources in many other campus libraries as well. Ask for assistance from a reference librarian.

Once you have found an item you need, login or click on the "Special collections request" link to request the item through Aeon.

If the UC Library Search record mentions a "finding aid" (an index) to a manuscript collection, you should use it to help you find what you need in the collection.  If the finding aid is online there will be a link from the UC Library Search record, or you can search the Online Archive of California to find it. The finding aids that are not online are near the Registration desk at the Bancroft Library.

3. Plan your visit; you will need to bring current government-issued ID, call numbers, titles, etc. with you. You may find it convenient to bring a quarter for the lockers, and a digital camera/cameraphone. Read the Conditions of Use to learn what you can and cannot bring into the Bancroft Library. Visits to the Bancroft are currently by appointment only due to COVID.

4. You will need to use the Aeon system to request photocopies or scans, request permission to publish materials, etc.

5. While onsite, make requests to see items before 4:30 pm.

6.  Ask for assistance at The Bancroft Library's reference desk, or request assistance by email.

Online Archive of California & Calisphere

oac home page

Guides to over 20,000 collections housed in 200 libraries, archives, historical societies, special collections and museums across California are searchable at the  Online Archive of California (OAC). Collection guides, also known as finding aids, are descriptive guides to archival (primary source) collections. These collections may be physically located in archives or digitized on the web. The guides help users learn more about the scope of a collection so they know if it is likely to meet their research needs.

calisphere home page

Digitized versions of photographs, documents, newspapers, political cartoons, works of art, diaries, transcribed oral histories, and other cultural artifacts that are contributed by these California institutions to the OAC make up the content included in Calisphere.