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English: Literature, Rhetoric, and Composition: Primary Sources

Primary Sources in Literature


Typically, when we speak of primary sources in literature we mean either the literary work under study (Virgina Woolf's a Room of One's Own) or personal information produced by the author herself (Virginia Woolf's letters, diaries, manuscripts, and archival papers).

What is a Primary Source?

Primary Sources - original, first-hand observations or accounts of events or experiments. May include speeches, interviews, diaries, newspaper articles, photographs, video, and archival materials.

Secondary Sources - most often interpretations or analyses of primary source information. Mostly in the form of books, journal articles, and reference materials.

The disctinction between primary and secondary sources is not solely based on book vs. article format. A book of interviews would be a primary source about that person; a book of scholarly criticism of that person's work would be a secondary source. For more information, see our library guide on Primary Sources.

Primary Sources in the NU Libraries

For particular literary works as a primary text, NU may own a copy in print; check "Library Catalogs" in Scholar OneSearch, for individual book titles. For example, if researching Virginia Woolf's texts, simply type A Room of One's Own into Scholar OneSearch.

For letters, journals, interviews, or other personal output of an author, there are several helpful standardized keywords you can use in Scholar OneSearch, together with your author's name:

  • Correspondence
  • Interviews
  • Diaires
  • Sources
  • Narratives
  • Quotations

There are several literary series entirely focused on source documents for an author or literary work:

    Finding Archives Elsewhere

    Always try a Google search for "author name and archive". However, the bulk of physical, paper archives cannot be found that way. There are several specialized search systems to locate papers across the U.S. and Canada.

    Primary Source Databases at NU

    Use from home with an active NU library card (your Husky ID).  The BPL also provides additional databases you can use from home with a BPL e-card.

    Use the blue drop-down menu above for a list organized by time period.

    Author Archives on the Web

    This is only a selection; locate additional resources by searching for your author's name plus words like archives, letters or digital library.

    Major Aggregators

    Subject Guide

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