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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

African American Studies 100

Guide to library resources on historical topics for African American Studies 100

What is a Primary Source?

"These are sources produced at the time of the event or phenomenon you are investigating, which purport to document it. They reflect what someone observed or believed about an event at the time it occurred or soon thereafter [. . .] There is no intrinsic or distinguishing feature of a text that makes it a primary, rather than a secondary, source. Many sources can serve as either primary or secondary sources. The key is how you use the material" (Stuart). For more on primary sources, and how historians distinguish them from secondary sources, consult our guide to Library Research for History Students.

Digital Collections of Primary Sources from UIUC Library

The Library provides access for UIUC faculty, staff, and students to several major collections of digitized texts. These are available from the “Online Research Resources” page off the Library Gateway Enter the title of the database in the search box and follow the links. These resources were purchased by the UIUC Library and require authentication with a UIUC net id.  

The two largest collections of digitized resources on African American studies available through the UIUC Library are the Black Studies Center and Black Thought and Culture.

Black Studies Center offers several different types of sources.  Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience consists of essays by scholars, organized by topic; timelines; video clips; graphic material (portraits, posters, images of printed documents and manuscripts, photographs, drawings, magazine illustrations); and links to recommended secondary literature.  The International Index to Black Periodicals provides coverage of articles published mainly since the mid-20th century.  Black Literature Index offers coverage of fiction and poetry by African American authors published between 1827 and 1940.  Black Studies Center also links to the digitized version of The Chicago Defender, a newspaper founded in Chicago in 1905 (issues available from 1910).

Black Thought and Culture contains 1300 sources from the 18th century to the present, including esays, pamphlets, letters, articles from journals, interviews (audio and text), and digital images of selected issues of newspapers.

In addition, we have temporary access (March 1 - May 1) to four historical African American newspapers of the 20th century, the New York Amsterdam News, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Los Angeles Sentinel, and the Atlanta Daily World.  These are in addition to the Chicago Defender.  Temporary access to these four newspapers is provided on a trial basis by the database producer.  While the trial is active, you can link to them from the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library web site.


Digital Collections on the Open Web

In addition to these subscription databases available only to UIUC students, faculty and staff, there are many digital collections available without restriction or cost to the user.   Below are some of the free digital resources to explore.  There are hundreds more available. To search for open-access digital collections by subject, use American Social History Online, OAIster, and Intute

American Memory Project (Library of Congress)

Document Archive of the Gilder Lehrman Collection

American Slave Narratives (University of Virginia)

Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina)

Amistad Research Center Digital Archives (Tulane University)