AMETH 160 - Introduction To American Ethnic Studies

This guide provides information to help students in AMETH 160 complete their final projects.

Library Research Guide

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are documents and records that were created at the time of an historical event or created by someone who witnessed or experienced that historical event.

Examples of primary sources include (but are not limited to):


  • diaries
  • legal documents & government records
  • letters
  • newspapers

Audio Visual

  • newsreels
  • oral histories

Images and Art

  • maps
  • political cartoons
  • paintings
  • photographs

Material Culture

  • clothing
  • furniture
  • tools
  • consumer products

Many of these items can also be secondary sources. The key distinction is when it was created or by whom in relation to the historical event.


Newspaper articles about the election of Susanna M. Salter who, when elected in 1887, became simultaneously the first woman mayor of Argonia, KS and the first woman mayor in the United States.

1. Newspaper article written in 1887 -- primary source, written at the time of the historical event.

2. Newspaper article written in 1961 when Salter died, describing her role in history -- secondary source, written after the fact, by someone who did not witness her term in office.

3. Newspaper article written in 1920 that included interviews with Salter and other residents of Argonia during her term-- the interviews can be primary sources because the people experienced the historical event.

Primary Source Archives

These sites are digital archives of primary sources. Search by person, place, event, or object.

This is just a sampling of the primary source databases and websites that exist.

If you can't find what you are searching for, Ask a Librarian or contact the librarian for this course, Sara K. Kearns. 

Search Tips:

Tip 1. Search using the language and terms used during the event you are studying. Primary source materials are historical and cultural and use words and phrases that might be particular to that time or cultural group. A database or website is more likely to find sources that match your search if your language matches the language used in the documents. 

Tip 2. Because primary sources are records of particular times, places, and people, you may encounter language and images that are offensive. We do not condone the language and images, but do recognize that they are part of our history and provide insight into the lives of people and cultures. 

Start Here

These digital archives cover all aspects of U.S. history and are a great place to start your search. Due to the high number of items in these archives, you may need to limit your results by date or format.

Primary Sources in K-State Libraries' Databases

K-State Libraries supports our students, faculty, and staff by purchasing or subscribing to resources like these databases with primary source and archival collections.

This is a sample of databases that are most relevant to your final project. See a complete list of primary source databases to which K-State Libraries subscribes.

Publicly Available Digital Archives

Publicly available digital archives are free for the end-user to access, so long as you have a device and the Internet. This means that the cost of creating and maintaining the archive is born by the organization that hosts it. They may use grants, taxes, donors, and/or volunteers to fund the archive.

Finding Publicly Available Digital Archives

You can discover many digital archives in the collections listed on this page. The Digital Public Library of America (link above) is especially useful for discovering collections because museums, libraries, and archives from across the United States submit their materials. When you find a particularly useful item, look to see where it is from and follow the links to explore more.

Other search tips:

  • Try searching the internet for: "name of movement/protest/event" AND digital archive
  • Many archives are location based, so look for digital archives of the city or state related to your topic or where a large population of the community you are learning about live.
  • Know the names of related agencies, laws, states/cities, or administrators can help located digital archives or primary sources. Your class notes, secondary sources and, yes, Wikipedia, can help you identify these names. Become familiar with important dates, too. This can help you when you are trying to decide which House bill (HB) is the one you need to focus on.


    • Executive Order 9066 --> Japanese American Relocation
    • Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) --> redlining
    • Arizona HB 2281 (2010) --> Ethnic Studies curriculum ban

21st Century Primary Sources

Primary sources in the 21st first century will include types of information from prior centuries, plus digital content from social media and websites.

Examples of 21st Century Primary Sources

Because we're looking at primary sources for recent events, it can sometimes be hard to identify what counts as a primary source. A primary source is one that presents the first-hand experience or perspective of a person or organization. One way to distinguish a primary source from a secondary source is by asking, "Who/what stated it for the first time?" (primary source) and "Who/what re-stated it?" (secondary source.)  They can take many forms including: 

  • A statement or comment from a person (including social media posts) or an organization (ex: APA resolution re: American Indian Mascots (PDF))
  • Original scientific or sociological research published as an article or book or conference proceeding (for more examples, see the SUNY Oswego library's page about primary sources in the sciences)
  • Surveys or interviews with people who are experiencing or directly observing the issue
  • Websites when they are used as evidence to demonstrate how an organization portrays itself or an issue or how it responds (or doesn’t respond) to an issue
    • Example: snapshots from the Wayback Machine of the Washington Football Team or the Cleveland football team's websites before and after they decided to change their mascots
  • Photographs or video footage of events, people, places

Some sources can be either primary or secondary sources, depending on how you use them. These include:

  • News reports
    • primary source: when you are using it as evidence of how the media is representing an issue, interviews with someone who experienced or is associated with the issue, interviews with people who are reacting to an issue
    • secondary source: when you are relying on it for its summary of or background information about an issue
      • the article may lead you to primary sources -- does it include photographs, social media posts, etc?


Digital content can quickly appear and be edited, manipulated and duplicated across many sites; and just as quickly disappear.

Your first goal is to get as close to the original source as possible. Don't rely on re-posted content. Go to the creator's social media feed, website, YouTube channel, etc...

Not sure if the image or video has been changed or who might have originally posted it? When was it first posted? Who posted it originally? Try the tools below. Find more tools as explained in Molly Stellino's article "9 tools to identify fake images and videos" on the Arizona State University News Co/Lab blog.

Social Movements and Protest Archives

These collections focus on preserving and sharing records of social movements and protests. Their materials may include film, audio, pamphlets, newsletters, handwritten notes, and more.

Legislation or Domestic Policies

These collections focus on specific legislation, policies, and regulations that impact people of color.

Stereotypes in Film, Television, and Popular Culture

K-State Libraries Streaming Video Databases

Due to copyright, I can't link you to a lot of databases with free access to films and television shows. We do have some streaming video databases that might have relevant movies for your project. Due to the way our subscriptions work, you can only view the videos we have purchased access to.

Researching Popular Culture

These sites provide data and context for popular culture.