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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:
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.
WorldCat's freely searchable collection of archival records. Will not get you to the full text, but will instead tell you where a particular author's papers are scattered, or particular manuscripts are held. Uncovers the existence of archives that are hard to find other ways.
A database of archives collections available through the BPL. Will not get you to the full text, but will instead tell you where a particular author's papers are scattered, or particular manuscripts are held. Uncovers the existence of archives that are hard to find other ways.
National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)
NUCMC records created since 1986 are in WorldCat, searchable free of charge. Older records are only in the print volumes or the pay database Archive Finder.
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.
Early English Books Online
Virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700, with digital facsimile page images.
Women Writers Online
Early modern women's writings from 1400 to 1850. Includes searchable full-text of books, poetry, and speeches as well as browse by date, author, and title. Produced here at Northeastern.
Times Digital Archive (London) (Gale Cengage)
London Times from 1785 to 1985 not including the Sunday edition. Wide history of 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, with applicability in literary, women's, and postcolonial studies. Find reviews of authors' works as published during their lifetime.
Rare documents from libraries and archives around the world, from the late 15th century to the mid-20th, plus thematic essays written by scholars in the field of Empire Studies. Covers literature and culture, women's rights, slavery, bureaucracy, politics postcolonial studies and more.
Illustrated London News (Gale Cengage)
World's first pictorial weekly newspaper, from 1842-2003. Illustrations and full page images from the height of Victorian culture to the 21st century.
American Periodicals Series, 1741-1940 (ProQuest)
One of the largest collections of digitized page images from American magazines and journals, covering colonial days to early 20th century. This includes titles like Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine and America's first scientific journal, Medical Repository; popular magazines like Vanity Fair and Ladies' Home Journal; regional and niche publications; and groundbreaking journals like The Dial, Puck, and McClure's.
North American Women's Letters and Diaries
Rich primary source database with over 150,000 pages of diaries and letters from 1,325 women. Keyword-searchable and with some pre-selected sub-collections of primary sources arranged around important historical events. Also includes author biographies an
Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (EBSCOhost)
Find citations to articles in the most popular general-interest periodicals published in 20th century America, particularly book and movie reviews, art reviews, and literary news from 1890 - 1982.
Nearly one million images including art, architecture, photography, and humanities, with tools to save and present images. Has illuminated manuscripts, book illustrations, author photos; find things like Blake's etchings, Plath's photo, Shakespearean theatre sets.
History Vault (Proquest)
Primary source archival materials like letters, papers, photographs, scrapbooks, financial records, and diaries. NU Libraries' subscription includes: Immigration Records from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Papers, Women's Rights Collections with documents from organizations like the Women's Party and League of Women Voters.
Historical Black Newspapers (ProQuest)
A sub-set of the entire historical newspaper collection, vital for a full understanding of U.S. history.
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.
American Author Museums
Excellent list maintained by the new American Writers Museum in Washington, D.C.
William Blake Archive
Rich page scans of Blake's illuminated books, commercial illustrations, drawings, etchings, and manuscripts. Also biography, resources for further research, and electronic edition of his Complete Poetry and Prose. From Lib of Congress and UNC-Chapel Hill.
Willa Cather Archive
Extremely rich archive of her publications and letters, including first and critical editions of her work, several academic journals, biography, multimedia, and resources for further study. From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Dickinson Electronic Archives
Scholarly critical edition of Emily Dickinson's correspondence, including correspondence of family members, responses to her work by other artists, and additional critical resources, some rare and out-of-print.
Leigh Hunt Online: The Letters
From U. of Iowa Libraries, which "possesses the most complete Leigh Hunt collection in the world", a browsable and searchable database of over 1,600 of his letters to other luminaries of the time like Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Thomas Carlyle.
Milton Reading Room
All of Milton's poetry in English, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and selections of his prose; almost all fully annotated, most with introductions. Continuing project with goal of annotated versions of all Milton's work. Supported by Dartmouth College.
Rich digital images of his manuscripts, proofs, original editions, some dating back to 14th century sources of his Italian translations. Also includes substantial editorial commentary and notes.
Walt Whitman Archive
Digital versions of as much of Whitman's work as possible, including notebooks, manuscript fragments, essays, letters, journalistic articles, and the multiple editions of Leaves of Grass. Supported by University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
30+ million records from over 2,000 cultural institutions in Europe, constantly growing. Paintings, sketchbooks, manuscripts, journals -- almost any type of primary source.
Digital Public Library of American (DPLA)
Over 7 million records from 1,200 cultural institutions in the U.S., constantly growing. Paintings, sketchbooks, manuscripts, journals -- almost any type of primary source.
Library of Congress Digital Collections
Includes historic U.S. Newspapers, links to international collections, photographs, early sound recordings, manuscripts, and former American Memory collections. Of course, very strong in U.S. history, but also with holdings from various historical eras in other countries.
Make sure to use the yellow log-in button and select Northeastern. Millions of digitized titles from around the world, covering the 15th to 21st centuries. A Google Books for academic libraries, with a good amount of full-text access for public domain items.
ICON: Newspaper Digitzation Projects
International in scope, one of the largest directories of which newspapers have been digitized. Some may be paid access only -- if you need a particular title first check here to see if it's been digitized, and then contact the Northeastern library to see if we have access or can locate a local library with access.
The Online Books Page
A listing of over 35,000 free books on the web, maintained by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Also includes listings of online serials (magazines, journals, newspapers, newsletters, etc.)
National Digital Libraries
Of China, India, France, Australia... always try a search for the national or regional libraries in your area of focus.
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