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HNRS 305 -- Explorations in Modern America: Using Archives

This guide provides students in this course with links, databases and tips for conducting research

Why Use Archives?

Our Special Collections & Archives focus on STEM subjects but in doing so these collections are a bridge between STEM and the humanities, framing the human experience in science and technology.

The collections include books and journals, some rare. The stars of the show, though, are the primary source materials -- original documents, maps, photographs, diagrams, and correspondence found nowhere else. When you use special collections and archives in your research, you get a unique perspective on the story of technology and people.

 

This page and it's contents are courtesy of Lisa Dunn, STEM Librarian and Head of Special Collections, Colorado School of Mines

What's a "Primary Source"?

A primary source is a first-person representation of an experience. A primary source may represent a scene, event, viewpoint, thought, eye-witness account, or expert opinion. Primary sources are authoritative in that they are the original expression of the creator. However, you must evaluate the reliability and authority of the creator's work.

Examples of primary sources:

  • Photographs
  • Correspondence
  • Emails, videos
  • Original field maps
  • Engineering diagrams
  • Consultant reports
  • Oral histories, diaries
  • Newspaper articles
  • Research data sets
  • Lab notebooks
  • Court transcripts

Secondary sources are based on analysis or interpretation of primary sources. Examples of "secondary sources":

  • Journal articles
  • Books describing, analyzing, interpreting a subject, for example the history of genome research; studies of earthquake damage
  • Documentaries
  • Biographies

Defining History

Archives play a critical role in defining history. Because they hold primary source materials, they:

  • Give human context to science and technology through items like correspondence, accident reports, photographs, and accounts of daily life
  • Are a source of "ground truth" about the past. Their content may be open to interpretation, but there is no filter between you and that content.

Archives are an irreplaceable resource for those exploring the stories that don't make it into the history books. What happens if your "story" isn't represented in an archive? You and we all run the risk of losing that story to history.

Primary source materials don't care about today's politics, trends, or society--They are that moment in time as experienced by their creator.