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HSS 300C - The United States: Primary Sources

Primary Sources in Databases

ALWAYS use the date range feature when searching for primary source newspaper articles.  An article is only a primary source if it was published at the time in which an event took place.


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             Primary Sources in the OWHL Catalog



Do a keyword search for your topic and include the words primary source in your search string. For example: when looking for primary sources about Thomas Jefferson you should type Thomas Jefferson primary source into the search box.

Documenting America in the 1950s

In 1955 Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank secured a Guggenheim Foundation grant to travel the United States, photographing the country and its people. Individually, each of the eighty-three photographs that comprise the portfolio and book The Americans tells a narrative of a particular place or person. As a whole, the portfolio shares an foreign-born artist’s view of the United States, its culture, society, geography, and mores which often stand in stark contrast to the wholesome 1950s portrayed in magazines and television at the time.

In 1959, photographer Bruce Davidson embedded himself with The Jokers, a teenage gang in Brooklyn, New York. The seventy-one photographs that comprise his resulting portfolio and book, Brooklyn Gang, examine the lives of this group of rebellious teenagers. Along with Frank’s portfolio The Americans, Brooklyn Gang provides contrast to the post-war perception of the United States that prevailed in media outlets such as film, television, and magazines.


 Search each of these artist's names in the Addison Collection to see JPEGs of their photographs.

These resources can be used to explore questions including:

  • How can photographs influence the ways in which a group or culture understands themselves or is understood by others?
  • How does the identity of the United States in the 1950s as described by history textbooks compare to the identity as captured in photographs by Robert Frank or Bruce Davidson?
  • Bruce Davidson is quoted as saying "My way of working is to enter an unknown world, explore it over a period of time, and learn from it." How does this form of embedded journlism compare to images made from an outsider perspective?

Documenting the Civil Rights Movement

Photographer James Karales was sent by Look magazine to illustrate an article on the Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights during the Civil Rights Movement in 1965. His now iconic photograph of marchers crossing barren land under a stormy sky captured the spirit and determination of those dangerous times. Bob Adelman’s documentation of fire hoses turned against demonstrators in Birmingham in 1963 and Jack Thornell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of James Meredith shot by a sniper during his 1966 March Against Fear illuminated the violent reality of this struggle for rights in the nation.

Recognizing the potential impact of media coverage, movement organizers enlisted and trained photographers, such as Danny Lyon, who became staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). To see the 28 photographs in Lyon’s Civil Rights photographic series, type “The Complete Civil Rights Portfolio” into the search box in the Addison Collection.

The public and private moments in the Black Panther Party captured by photographer Stephen Shames between 1968 and 1973 illuminate the contrast between the party’s declared political goals and the characterization of them by the national media.



Search each of these artist's names in the Addison Collection to see JPEGs of their photographs.

These resources can be used to explore questions including:

  • How do the intentions of photographers, editors, and publishers impact the narrative of a national story?
  • How can the power of images to sway public opinion be harnessed by a social or political movement?
  • How does the media coverage of the Civil Rights movement compare to the ways in which perspectives on contemporary social and political movements are represented in the media?

Primary Sources on the web