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CIN201: Film Cultures 1: Art & Industry

A comprehensive guide to scholarly resources - books, journal articles, primary source material.

Finding Primary Sources - Intro & Overview

Primary Sources vs Secondary Sources

In the humanities, a primary source is a document that was created during the time period being studied. This includes newspaper and magazine articles, original film reviews, pamphlets, interviews, government publications, manuscripts, diaries, newsreels, and other sources that speak to the context of the time period. Primary sources provide firsthand evidence of historical events recorded by those who lived it, and as such usually need to be contextualized with more modern secondary sources like histories of the time period and academic film writing. 

You can usually find clues to specific primary sources by looking through secondary materials like books and scholarly articles written in the present day. These often include bibliographies of the primary works used as references, and can give you ideas about other ways to search for your topic. Some more recent books also include reprints of primary sources.

Remember that articles and reviews published at contemporary time to a film’s release are primary sources. Pressbooks, promotional materials associated with the films release and screenplays which are the text from which the films are made, these are also considered primary sources.

Primary Resources on Microfilm:

Microformat (which is the overarching term for microfilm, microfiche and microcard) is basically an older version of scanning. Material was photographed and placed on durable plastic material; the material on these “films” or “cards” could then be viewed with a special machine without damaging the original. There are many wonderful Film and Media Studies resources that the Library only holds in microformat (mostly microfilm), and although most students have never used this kind of material before, there is no reason to be intimidated! There is always someone you can ask for help at the Media Commons, 3rd floor of Robarts Library. 

It is a good idea to start your microfilm research by consulting an index; doing so will give you a specific citation and save you hours of scrolling through years of a journal that has been scanned onto film. You can consult outside sources, like Google Scholar, the Reader’s Guide Retrospective, or even the New York Times for citations on your topic in order to give you some idea of when to look for coverage on a certain topic.