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Primary Resources for Art History Research

Primary resources provide evidence to support key claims and arguments in research. This guide defines primary resources, provides evaluation criteria, and offers strategies for finding primary resources in large library catalogs and digital collections.

Primary Resources from the Colby College Libraries and Other Large Discovery Systems

Locate obvious primary sources in our Colby library catalogs (CBBcat, One Search) and larger discovery portals (such as WorldCat  and Hathi Trust Digital Library), by using a topic or an artist/author name and a term such as: sources, letters, autobiographies, diaries, or another term from the list below. The library also subscribes to many online primary resource collections: textual, media, visual, and music. Colby's Special Collections provides a wealth of on-site archives and valuable rare book materials relating specifically to the College and its cultural and social history.

  • art works, paintings, portraits, caricatures, illustrations, prints, sculpture, drawings, photography, decorative art
  • artists' books
  • artists' statements
  • autobiographies
  • correspondence, letters
  • diaries
  • documentary photography
  • ephemera (e.g. posters, broadsides, advertisements)
  • exhibitions
  • facsimiles
  • interviews (in journals, newspapers, podcasts, video)
  • manuscripts
  • maps
  • newspapers or periodicals of the time period being researched
  • speeches
  • personal narratives
  • original works for performance (film, dance, drama or musical theater, stage designs)
  • original works of music (music scores, sound recordings)
  • original works of literature (poetry, novels, drama, fiction, etc.)
  • oral histories / transcripts
  • travelers' writings

Archives of American Art Journal

A peer-reviewed journal, "Archives of American Art Journal covers the history of the visual arts in the United States from the eighteenth century to the recent past. The Journal seeks to enrich our understanding of art history and visual culture by publishing original research based in part on the vast holdings of the Archives of American Art. It aims to showcase new approaches to and out-of-the-box thinking about primary sources. First published in 1960 as the Archives of American Art Bulletin, the Archives of American Art Journal is the longest-running scholarly journal devoted to the history of American art." University of Chicago Press website.

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