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Documentary Film Research Methods

Prof. Brew Spring 2012

Finding Primary Sources


Use Subject Word Sources to look for collections of primary source materials


New York Times Historical Archives

Covers 1851- present, pdf of original articles, includes advertisements, images

•To search a bundle of various historical newspapers, go to Proquest All Subscribed Contents

Filter your search results by Source Type: Historical Newspapers

Historical newspapers can be used as primary sources, since they report events at the time when they happened.


Selected Internet Sites

"Browse through over 150 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago"

Produced by WGBH: online documentaries about American history and historical figures, includes additional inforamtion such as timelines, maps, etc.

Evaluating Internet Information

Evaluate Information you find on the Internet:

Who is the Author or publisher? (Go to About link on websites)
•What is the mission of the website? Who is is intended Audience?(About or Home page, or "What we Do" etc.):
•Is there Bias or Opinion?
•How Updated is the Information?
•Check the domain: .edu and .org domains are non-commercial (see Google Search Tip box)

•Remember that much information on the internet is produced by businesses, agencies, organizations or individuals with a certain bias or agenda


Websites as Primary Sources

•When a website is not reliable as an objective academic source that considers various viewpoints (a secondary source), it may be valuable to you as a primary source ("raw material") that you can then analyze.


•This is where the internet really shines! You can get primary sources such as corporate reports and activists' manifestos from around the world that would have been hard or impossible to obtain only 20 years ago.


Example: the BP website on the Gulf oil spill is not a reliable unbiased source on the oil spill, but you can use it to discuss BP's own response and how BP presents the spill from its point of view. You would then use journal articles about the spill to assess BP's claims.


Google Search Tip

Use Google to find government or nonprofit websites, as well as websites from specific countries

Follow this pattern:

Keyword site:domain extension


september 11 timeline site:org
This search will exclusively return results from non-profit organizations websites
patriot act site:gov

This search will exclusively return results from government websites

september 11 narratives site:edu
This search will exclusively return results from educational/academic websites


Domain extensions:
gov - government
org - nonprofit organizations
edu - educational institutions
com- commercial
net- community networks
mil - military
int - international organizations


To find websites from a specific country, use the Country Codes


september 11 history site:pk
Will exclusively return results with websites from Pakistan