"Archives" is most recognized as the term designating the repository where papers and records are held and made available to researchers. However, "archives" is also defined as the records of an institution or organization. Examples of this are the records of the United States Government at the National Archives and Records Administration; state and county records at the Illinois State Archives; and university records at the Loyola University Archives.
"Special Collections" refers to materials other than institutional or organizational records that are kept for their historical value. These collections are often divided according to format and can include manuscript collections (where "manuscript" is used to designate personal papers); audio-visual collections; oral history collections; theses and dissertations; and rare books. Special Collection departments usually focus on a limited number of subject areas. For example, Special Collections at Loyola focus on Samuel Insull; Catholic organizations; Jesuit educators; and Women and Leadership.
What is a primary source?
The Ohio Historical Society defines primary sources as a "source created by people who actually saw or participated in an event and recorded that event or their reactions to it immediately after the event."
Primary sources provide firsthand evidence of historical events. While some published materials can be considered primary sources for the period in which they were written, the majority of primary sources are unpublished materials that document people and events. Examples of primary sources are diaries, manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, correspondence, reports, and even textiles.
What is a secondary source?
A secondary source is a source created sometime after an event that synthesizes information gained from primary sources. For example, a textbook or book analyzing an historical event are secondary sources.
Where to Find Primary Sources
Primary sources are most often found in an archives, library, or historical society. Each institution usually collects in specific subject areas; for example, the Loyola University Archives collects university records, papers and records relating to Samuel Insull, the papers of Jesuit educators, and the records of Catholic organizations headquartered in Chicago. An excellent way to find primary sources is to consult the footnotes/endnotes found in secondary sources on your subject.
Using Primary Sources
Primary sources differ from secondary sources in several important ways.
- Primary sources do not circulate - they must be used in the designated area of the institution you are at.
- Primary sources are the raw materials of history. They are not synthesized with an index pointing to the correct page. Be prepared to spend more time than anticipated reading correspondence, reports, etc., to find the desired information.
- Examine primary sources critically - remember they are only one person's perspective of a person or event.
Places to Find Primary Resources
Archives and Special Collections
Cudahy Library Room 218