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Primary Sources etc.

Understanding primary sources 

If you are seeking to learn about the past, primary sources of information are those that provide first-hand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are researching. In general, these are documents that were created by the witnesses or first recorders of these events at about the time they occurred, and include diaries, letters, reports, photographs, creative works, financial records, memos, and newspaper articles (to name just a few types).  

Primary sources also include first-hand accounts that were documented later, such as autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories. However, the most useful primary sources are usually considered to be those that were created closest to the time period you’re researching.  

Determining which kinds of documents constitute primary sources depends upon the topic you’re researching. (For example, sometimes the same book or article could be considered a primary source for one research topic and a secondary source for a different topic.)

For Example: The paiting of Washington Crossing The Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze was painted in 1851. 

This paiting is both a primary and secondary source depending on what you are researching.

Primary

It is a primary source if you are studying the painter Emanuel Leutze or art and paintings from the late 19th centurary.

Secondary

It is a secondary source if you are studying the American Revolution or the actual event of Washington crossing the Delaware, this is because the events depicted in the painting took place in 1776, over 50 years before the painting was painted.  Emanuel Leutze was not present for the events he is depicting so it cannot be a primary source for those events.

 Primary Sources and Web Resources

Aisle Say
Internet magazine of stage reviews and opinions. 

American Periodicals Series (ProQuest)
Search a selection of periodicals that first began publishing between 1740 and 1900, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children's and women's magazines, and many other historically significant periodicals.

American Theatre Archive Project (ATAP)
The American Theatre Archive Project (ATAP) supports theatre makers in archiving records of their work for the benefit of artists, scholars, patrons, and the public.

American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment 1870-1920

Black Drama, 2nd Edition
Contains the full text of 1,462 plays written from the mid-1800s to the present by more than 233 playwrights from North America, English-speaking Africa, the Caribbean, and other African diaspora countries. Many of the works are rare, hard-to-find, or out of print. More than a quarter of the collection consists of previously unpublished plays by writers such as Langston Hughes, Ed Bullins, Derek Walcott, Willis Richardson, Alice Childress, Amiri Baraka, Zora Neale Hurston, and many others.

DIDASKALIA: Ancient Theater Today

Early English Books Online (EEBO)
Early English Books Online (EEBO) contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700. For searchable text of selected titles see Early English Books Online -Text Creation Partnership

Early English Books Online - Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP)
EEBO-TCP captures the full text of each unique work in EEBO. This is done by manually keying the full text of each work and adding markup to indicate the structure of the text (chapter divisions, tables, lists, etc.). The result is an accurate transcription of each work, which can be fully searched, or used as the basis of a new project. To date, EEBO-TCP has produced more than 40,000 texts. The EEBO-TCP text files are delivered back to ProQuest and indexed in EEBO, so users at partner libraries can seamlessly perform full text searches and view transcriptions right within the EEBO platform, although the texts can also be accessed in other ways. EEBO-TCP is administered by the University of Michigan Library, with teams of editors at Michigan and Oxford.

Internet Broadway Database

Irish Playography
The Irish Playography (1950-present) is an ambitious work-in-progress that seeks to provide a comprehensive list of modern Irish plays in a single searchable database.

Literature Online (Chadwyck-Healey)
A fully searchable library of more than 350,000 works of English and American poetry, drama and prose, 382 full-text literature journals, and other key criticism and reference resources.

Lortel Archives-Off-Broadway Database

The Lortel Archives, also known as the Internet Off-Broadway Database, provide a catalogue of shows produced Off-Broadway. For the purposes of The Lortel Archives, Off-Broadway refers to any production that has satisfied the following requirements:

  • Played at a Manhattan theatre with a seating capacity of 100-499
  • Intended to run a closed-ended or open-ended schedule of performances of more than one week
  • Offered itself to critics and general audiences alike


Luna: Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection
This database offers access to tens of thousands of high resolution images from the Folger Shakespeare Library, including books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, and art. Users can show multiple images side-by-side, zoom in and out, view cataloging information when available, export thumbnails, and construct persistent URLs linking back to items or searches. 

North American Theatre Online (Alexander Street Press)
Includes more than 40,000 pages of important reference sources in electronic format, indexed and searchable along with all the other content. O’Dell’s Annals of the New York Stage, the Oxford University Press Companion series, and Greenwood’s American Theatre Companies series are just a few of the many in-copyright sources. Also, in-depth records cover tens of thousands of plays, including many previously unpublished works by major authors—not only major and known plays, but also partial works, works that have never been performed, and works that were believed lost, providing researchers with unique and never-before-seen information. Related resources include thousands of playbills, posters, photographs, and related theatrical ephemera.

Performing Arts Resources- Library of Congress
As a part of ongoing modernization, the collections on the Performing Arts Encyclopedia have been migrated to new presentations on the Library’s web site. The Performing Arts Encyclopedia has been retired, but research databases related to the performing arts that were featured on the PAE will continue to be available from a new page, “Performing Arts Databases.”  To search all Library collections, please visit loc.gov/search, or browse the full array of digitized collections at loc.gov/collections. You can also use the links below to go to the new presentations for single collections.

Play Index (EBSCO)
Play Index searches over 30,000 plays written from Antiquity to the present and published from 1949 to the present. Covers a wide range of plays written in or translated into English, including mysteries, pageants, plays in verse, puppet performances, radio and television plays, and classic drama. Search for plays by title, author, subject, style, genre, or cast type.

Playbill On-Line

Playbill Vault
Playbill Vault is the largest source of information about Broadway people, shows, theatres, awards, Playbill covers and Who's Who biographies.

Records of Early English Drama (REED)
Records of Early English Drama (REED) is an international scholarly project that is establishing for the first time the context from which the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries grew. REED has for the last thirty-five years worked to locate, transcribe, and edit historical documents containing evidence of drama, secular music, and other communal entertainment and ceremony from the Middle Ages until 1642, when the Puritans closed the London theatres. Along with twenty-seven collections of records in print, with the most recent, Inns of Court, published in December 2010, REED is building a dynamic collection of freely available digital resources for research and education.

Talkin' Broadway

The Archive of Performances of Greek & Roman Drama (APGRD)
The APGRD is a pioneering international centre for research into performances of Greek and Roman drama worldwide, from antiquity to the present, on stage, screen and radio, in opera and dance.

The Interval
is a theatre website, founded to be a virtual home for female voices of the theatre, with the goals of changing the conversation around women in theatre by asking smart ladies smart questions for a smart audience; promoting gender parity in theatre; creating a place to explore the diverse nature of creativity, storytelling, and careers in the theatre; bridging the gap between Broadway and Off-Broadway; plays and musicals; and on-stage and behind the scenes.

swingo Sarah Wingo
Librarian for English Literature and Theatre
Falvey Library, Villanova University
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova , PA , 19085
Room 223
610-519-5183


Sarah Wingo is available for research consultations, instruction, curricular support & purchase requests.

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Last Modified: 2017-08-16 14:54:31