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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Archival Use for Middle Eastern Scholarship: Primary Sources

This guide aims to provide information for scholars and researchers visiting archives in the Middle East.


What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original artifacts or documents. They offer contemporary accounts from participants or people directly involved in an event. Examples of primary sources include, but are not limited to:

  Primary Source Secondary Source
History Diary An article critiquing the diary
Literature Memoir Book on the memoir

Other examples include:

  • Diaries and literary memoirs
  • Letters/correspondence
  • Artistic works (musical and visual arts)
  • News segments/transcripts
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Editorials
  • Legal documents and statistics 

While secondary sources are further removed from events and often reflect the author's perspective, using primary sources enables you to work with raw material and draw your own conclusions.

Useful Links

Public Libraries

Government Websites

  • American Memory Project (a Library of Congress initiative): Offers a diverse collection in a variety of formats (prints, photographs, letters, reports, sheet music, recordings, maps, etc.)
  • National Archives: A huge collection of photographs, documents, reports, and more
  • Find legislative information and more


Where Can I Find a Primary Source?

Library Catalog (Advanced Search)

  1. Enter the type of primary source you're looking for in the first box (narratives, correspondence, music scores, etc.)
  2. Change the drop-down menu next to the first search box from "Keyword" to "Subject"
  3. In the second box, type a related keyword (author, event, geographical location, etc.)
For example: You may type "narratives" in the first box and "Anne Frank" in the second box to look for Anne's diary and related primary sources.

Library Databases 

Articles and Newspapers:

News Transcripts: 

  1. In the "Search by Subject or Topic" option category select "Broadcast Transcripts"
  2. Enter search terms in box and click "Search"
  3. Use options on result page to focus your results

Speeches and Interviews: 

  1. Under "Search Options," scroll down to the "Limit your results" section
  2. Under "Document type,"  select "Speech" or "Interview." To search both simultaneously hold down the "Control" key when making your selection

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