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Library Research Guides

Comm 445: Music & Identity

Suggested resources for Professor Derek Vaillant's Comm 445: Seminar in Media and Culture - Music and Identity

What Is a Primary Source?

A primary source is generally:

  • a document or text (or musical composition, performance or group) that was created in the time period that you are studying, or by a person who lived during that time period and wrote about it later
  • firsthand knowledge about the event, time period, or person that you are researching.

A secondary source, on the other hand:

  • makes use of primary sources in the explanation or exploration of a prior time period
  • is distanced from this time period and uses primary sources as evidence to back up assertions.
Example: if you are researching pop star Madonna and her music, a biography would be a secondary source, while her music or music videos would be primary sources. An interview with Madonna would also be considered a primary source.

Context Matters

Whether a source is primary or secondary depends on the context of your research question. Sometimes what we might think of as a secondary source becomes a primary source, depending on how you are using it.

Example: a 19th century biography of a 17th century historical figure is a secondary source if you want to learn more about that person, but it is a primary source if you are looking for 19th century opinions on the figure.
Example: the Democratic party website, campaign ads, or twitter feed is a secondary (and politically biased) source if you want to learn about current government happenings, but it is a primary source for looking at how this particular political party expresses itself and its views.

Primary Sources in Mirlyn (library catalog)


The UM Library catalog – search here for books, films, music, manuscripts, diaries, musical scores, journal titles, etc.  The Askwith Media Library (videos and DVDs) collections are included within Mirlyn.

When searching Mirlyn for primary sources, some suggested keywords to add to your search:

  • "personal narratives"
  • correspondence, letter or letters
  • diary or diaries
  • manuscript
  • "musical score"
  • biography or autobiography

Also remember newspapers in print and on microfilm, in addition to electronically; print and microfilm allows you to look at advertisements of the time. For more Mirlyn search tips, see "Search Tips" tab.

Music Online

Music Magazines

Billboard Magazine archive (through Google Books)

Rolling Stone magazine (click on "Available Online" links, note the date ranges)

General Interest Magazines

A small selection of our online magazines - for a particular publication, search in Mirlyn