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ENGL 101 - Montgomery Bus Boycott - Blaker

This guide will support Prof. Rhona Baker's ENGL 101 course and their research assignment on the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Source Types




Primary Sources


Original documents created or experienced concurrently with the event being researched.

First hand observations, contemporary accounts of the event. Viewpoint of the time.

Interviews, news footage, data sets, original research, speeches, diaries, letters, creative works, photographs

Secondary Sources

Works that analyze, assess, or interpret a historical event, an era, or a phenomenon. Generally uses primary sources.

Interpretation of information, usually written well after an event. Offers reviews or critiques.

Research studies, literary criticism, book reviews, biographies, textbooks

Tertiary Sources

Sources that identify, locate, and synthesize primary AND secondary sources.

Reference works, collections of lists of primary and secondary sources, finding tools for sources.

Encyclopedias, bibliographies, dictionaries, manuals, textbooks, fact books

From LMU's Primary Sources 

Finding Primary Sources

1. Identify Your Subject

 Identify your subject by reading basic background information including encyclopedia articles, introductory books, and museum Web sites. These words can be used as your keywords when you search in the databases.

Try to answer the following questions:

  • Who: names of significant people, movements, or organizations

  • When: beginning and ending dates for individuals or events

  • Where: watch for place name changes in the past

  • What: Significance of subject can affect how many records from the past still exist

  • More info: watch for further references or citations to find additional information

For example, if the topic is "non-violent protest inspired by Gandhi and the Montgomery Bus Boycott" you might have the following answers:

  • Who: Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, Women’s Political Council (WPC), Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Ralph Abernathy, Claudette Colvin, Edgar Daniel (E.D.) Nixon, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

  • When: 1955-1956 (ending on December 20, 1956)

  • Where: United States; Southern States/South; Montgomery, Alabama

  • What: the Civil War soldiers suffered a huge mortality and injury rate, and witnessed terrible carnage 

Background Information (Tertiary Sources) @ GCC

2. What Sources?

Think about the types of records or documents that would have been created at the time period surrounding events and issues related to your topic. These are the sort of things you'll have to look for.

Here are some guiding questions (primary sources appear in parentheses): 

  • What was life/society like at the time?  (magazines, chronicles, newspapers, artworks)
  • What were the experience, beliefs, or priorities of relevant individuals / groups / organizations at the time? (autobiographies, interviews, diaries, letters, advertisements, manifestos)
  • What was the government attitude? What was the government of the day saying? (proclamations, monuments, records of debates, legislation, law codes)
  • How many people were involved in or affected by this issue / event? (statistics, official records, estimates based on material culture or remains)
  • What were people being told, what did they communicate? (newspapers, artworks, photographs, letters, secret communications)
  • What did things look like? (artwork, photographs, guide books for tourists, illustrations, postcards)

3. Use Special Keywords

Make yourself a list of keywords you can use to search for primary sources. In addition to describing your topic, your keywords should include special names for primary source materials.

Keywords that name and help find primary sources include: sources, documentary history, personal narratives, autobiographies, memoirs, eyewitness, correspondence, letters, diaries, advertising, newspapers, maps, artifacts, archives

Here's an example of searching primary sources on civil rights in OneSearch:

First, open OneSearch and select the "Advanced Search" option on the right side of the search box. This will open the advanced search page.


Next, on the Advanced Search page, enter the topic keyword and add other keywords that describe primary source types. For example, the topic is civil rights and the additional keywords are "memoir or autobiography or narrative or diary"


Adapted from LMU's Primary Sources 

Primary Source Databases @ GCC

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