African-American History to 1877
History 230
Wittenberg University
Fall 2005

Primary sources versus secondary sources

What is the difference between a primary source and a secondary source? A primary source is typically one written or recorded by a participant in the event, while a secondary source is compiled by an author from primary or secondary sources. An example of a primary source in African-American history is a slave narrative. This is a document recounted by a former slave about her life. A secondary source would be a book written by a historian about slavery in the United States.

Manuscripts and letters are primary sources as they were written by the person observing the event. Books may be comprised of primary sources such as copies of letters or documents relating to an event. Reports of Congressional committees or reports from Civil War battles made by the participants would be primary sources, even though they may be printed in books. Newspaper and magazine articles may be considered primary sources, if they are eye-witness accounts of an event. If not, then you may need to consider them a secondary source.

Finding Books

EZRA– Wittenberg’s library catalog

OhioLINK – Ohio academic libraries catalog

WorldCat – used for materials not found in the above catalogs

Subject Headings: Library of Congress Subject Headings

Select Reference Books

Africana: the encyclopedia of the African and African American experience. Editors, Kwame Anthony Appia, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
5 volumes.
Ref DT14.A37435 2005

Black women in America. Darlene Clark Hind, editor-in-chief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
3 volumes.
Ref E185.86.B542 2005

Dictionary of Afro-American slavery. Edited by Randall M Miller and John David Smith. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Reserves E441.D53 1988

Encyclopedia of African-American culture and history. Edited by Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, Cornel West. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996.
5 volumes.
Ref E185.E54 1996

Reference library of Black America. Compiled and edited by Harry A. Ploski and James Williams. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.
5 volumes.
Ref E185.R44 1990

You may also find reference books dealing with African-Americans in the call number areas dealing with a specific subject, such as art, music or science. 

Electronic Books

The library has access to a collection of electronic books which you may find as part of your research. They are identified with the words [Computer File] in the title.


Thomas Library has a large collection of microforms, including microfilm and microfiche. One of the important sets you may encounter in your research is the Library of American Civilization, or LAC. These materials are cataloged in EZRA and you will likely come upon them. Do not pass them by just because they are a microform. This set contains a number of items dealing with African American history, much of prior to 1877. Here you will find reports from the colonization societies, an 1868 publication on African-American homelife, and a history of African-American free schools in New York.

Finding journal articles

Online Indexes

America: History and Life - indexes scholarly journals from 1964 to today.

American Periodical Series Online 1740-1900 - indexes numerous periodicals from the 18th and 19th centuries and provides full-text of the articles.

New York Times - Historical - indexes the New York Times from 1851-present with full-text of the articles. Useful for contemporary coverage of slavery issues prior to the Civil War, the Civil War and Reconstruction.

19th Century Master File - indexes a number of periodical indices for articles written during the 19th century.

Electronic Resources

Annals of American History - Provides access to many primary sources in American history. You can search by subject or author.

HarpWeek - Wittenberg has access to the full-text and images of Harper's Weekly from 1857 to 1871. Harper's Weekly, along with the New York Times, is an excellent source for contemporary reports of the Civil War.

JSTOR – JSTOR is an electronic full-text archive of journals in various disciplines, including history.

Lexis-Nexis Primary Sources in African-American History - Lexis-Nexis Universe is one of the databases at Wittenberg. A subset of this database contains online full-text versions of many primary documents pertaining to African-American history, such as autobiographies of former slaves. Many of these are available in print in Thomas Library, but this may serve as an resource for times when the library is closed.

Library of Congress American Memory - this web site contains a variety of primary source materials regarding African American history, including slave narratives, pamphlet collections, slavery and law documents and information relating to the church in the African American experience.

Ohiolink Electronic Journal Collection – the EJC is provided by Ohiolink and is an electronic full-text archive of journals in various disciplines, including history.

Inter-Library Loan (ILL)

As a student at Wittenberg you have access to a large number of resources, but sometimes the article you want is not available here or full-text online or the book or video you want is not available here or in Ohiolink. When that happens you need to use our inter-library loan service. By using ILL you can request a copy of an article or a book or video from another library. Most journal articles may not be requested through Ohiolink so you will need to request them on the Thomas Library periodicals ILL form. Check with a Reference Librarian to see if the article you need is available through Ohiolink. Books and videos should be requested on the Thomas Library book ILL form. Items will be delivered at the Circulation desk where you can pick them up and use them. Remember, it can take a few weeks for ILL to be delivered so plan ahead.

Audio-Visual Resources

You may also find audio-visual resources which may be of use to you. These may be videotapes, DVDs, or audio recordings. These are housed in the Audio-Visual Department of the Library and may have special rules about their usage.

Personal Research Consultation (PeRC)

These are one hour appointments with a librarian to discuss your topic and how to proceed with your research. You may schedule them by e-mail, phone or in-person at the reference desk. Doug Lehman is the liaison librarian for the History Department.

Web page by Doug Lehman, Wittenberg University
phone: 327-7016

September 13, 2005