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MUS 200: Music, Culture, and Society

Primary Sources in General

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.

Thanks to the Yale University Library for this description.

What are Secondary Sources?

See the explanation in the Woodruff Library Primary Sources Research Guide (opens in a new tab).  This guide gives definitions and examples of both primary and secondary sources.

Primary Sources for Music

Primary sources for music may include

  • manuscripts and early printed editions of scores
  • marked-up scores used for early performances
  • reviews of first and early performances
  • sound recordings, including recording-session masters and outtakes
  • film footage of performances, rehearsals, and people involved in creating the music
  • ethnographic films and folklore collections
  • musical instruments and equipment of all kinds.

Terminology: Papers and Archives

What are papers and archives?

Libraries commonly use the term "papers" for collections of an individual's original documents and personal effects.  "Papers" covers many formats, such as manuscripts, drafts, diaries, journals, audio and video recordings, books, and artifacts (e.g., eyeglasses, musical instruments) that belonged to the individual.  Archives usually refers to the records of an organization, though there are exceptions.  “Archival” carries a different connotation, and would apply to individuals’ papers and other collections.

How do libraries catalog them?

  • The library's main catalog typically includes one record (catalog entry) describing the collection, but no records for individual items within the collection.
  • A finding aid, in paper or online, describes contents of various parts of the collection.
  • Some collections remain unprocessed and may not appear at all in the library catalog.  New materials are acquired faster than staff can process them.
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