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HIS301: Historical Writing: Archives & Primary Sources

Navigating the University Archives for students in HIS301
Last Updated: Jan 8, 2024 4:09 PM

Archive or Archives?

Archives are materials created by humans over the course of their lifetimes, retained for their enduring historical value.

  • Archives refers to analog and born-digital materials (e.g., documents, photographs, artifacts; emails; etc.).
  • An archive is an organization that collects these materials.
  • The University Archives is the organization responsible for preserving and making available the materials that document history of the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) and its predecessor, the University of Buffalo (1846-1962), as well as materials of regional interest.

University Archives

The University Archives is one of the four repositories in the UB Libraries Special Collections. Located in 420 Capen Hall on the North Campus of UB, the University Archives is a hybrid repository, collecting the records of the university, private papers of individuals associated with UB, and historical manuscript collections that document regional organizations and events.

National Archives (NARA) stacks, circa 2012

Taken from NARAtions blog, 2012

Libraries v. Archives

Libraries and archives both serve to provide access to information. However, libraries usually contain more widely published material that can be loaned. Archives contain more unique unpublished and primary source material that cannot be loaned.

Individual in Lockwood Library stacks, 2005

#20020057, UB Photo Database Archives


Primary Sources

Special Collections houses most of UB Libraries’ primary source materials. Primary sources are created at the time under study and serve as original evidence documenting a time period, event, people, idea, or work. Primary sources include manuscript and archival materials in any format, such as paper, audio/visual, or born-digital. This could include literary manuscripts, diaries, clothing, personal belongings, artifacts, and printed material. Secondary sources are usually scholarly works of analysis and criticism, such as an academic publication or a literary work. Secondary sources are often based on studying primary sources. Tertiary sources include encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Students build snow whale for Winter Carnival, circa 1965

#80H (128)

Newspaper articles: Primary or Secondary?

Consider whether the examples below are primary or secondary sources. Click on each scenario to reveal the type of source.

This would be an example of a secondary source.

We could consider this scrapbook a primary source because it is an original piece of evidence documenting the creator's experience, even when it is comprised of secondary sources.

This a primary source because it is an original piece of evidence documenting an event.

This is a secondary source as it an account written by someone who did not attend the events-in-question.