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Jewish Studies Primary Source Collections

Provides access to Jewish studies primary sources, both digital and physical materials at IU

Researching with Primary Sources

Define your topic?

  • Determine what your research interests are, either a topic for a class assignment or a topic for personal research. What questions are you seeking to answer?
  • Creating a time estimated plan early in your project can help ensure there is enough time to thoroughly complete your research.

Beginning your Research

  • In order to determine what materials will best benefit your research it is important to narrow the scope of your research. This can be completed by research of secondary sources, articles, periodicals, books. IU’s library catalog and online databases can help this research. If you are unsure where to begin, consider checking a research guide that specializes in the subject you are studying. Footnotes, bibliographies, and references of relevant works are a good place to look for additional sources.

Archival Sources

  • Identify a collection which would contribute to your research. World Cat and Archive Grid can aid in finding materials globally and locally. Archives online includes a significant amount of the material accessible at Indiana University.
  • Create a list of materials you seek to access – make a note of title, contributor/author, collection ID or call number (any information that may aid in accession).
  • Contact the archives to discuss collections, access, strategies for research, ask questions, or schedule an appointment. Give the archives time to reply. This step may take longer than you’d like as providing access to particular materials may take time.
  • If possible, check reading room policies before your appointment.  Every archive has different policies and restrictions which may change your plan for researching in the archive. These polices can range from what is permitted in the reading room, to rules on handling material. Noting these procedures before your visit will allow you to be prepared to complete your research.

In the Archive 

  • As you have limited access to the materials, the notes you take in the archives become valuable to continued research. Some good archival research habits include:
    • Record the call number of each material you look at. This includes noting information on the collection, box and folder number, and item ID if available. 
    • Note basic information about the item or collection, like title and author, anything you may need for citations.
    • Make sure to differentiate your notes on different sources, this may seem obvious but is often forgotten and will make synthesis of your research challenging.
    • If you are taking notes on a computer, it may be useful to turn off auto correct – spellcheck may make corrections that are not authentic to the material you are citing.
    • If you are taking using a computer or taking photos, make a plan for how to organize your files so you can find them later.

Finding primary source material in databases is not always intuitive. Here are some terms that material may be categorized under. These terms can help with searching or understanding finding aids. 

anecdotes
archives
biography
caricatures and cartoons
case studies
catalogs
comic books, strips
correspondence
description and travel

diaries
documentary films
exhibitions
interviews
manuscripts
maps
notebooks
personal narratives
photography

pictorial works
portraits
public opinion
songs and music
sources
speeches
sketchbooks
statistics
statutes

Archives and special collection libraries often use different vocabularly when describing their collections. Many of these terms are not intuitive and may confuse new users. This glossary should help provide some context for the most used terms. 


Abstract - A concise summart of the key points of a larger work, often used to assist the researcher in determining if the work will be of use. 

Archival Collection - A set of archival materials, sometimes assembled by person, organization, repository, format, or theme. May be a compilation of materials from different sources and of unrelated format. 

Accession Number - A number or code assigned to identify a group of records or material acquired by a repository and used to link the materials to associated records. 

Box - A container approproate for the long-term storage of archival materials. Size and content may vary but in general the boxes are the size of a document box. This can be used to comprehend the size of a collection as many archives list the number of boxes within a collection.  

Bulk Dates - The earliest and latest dates of the majority of materials within a particular collection. These can differ from inclusive dates and are useful when inclusive dates are misleading. 

Call Number/ Collection ID - A unique combination of letters and numbers used to identify an item or collection to allow retrieval and organized storage. These can be seen within catalogs and usually need to be provided to repositories when requesting materials. 

Finding Aid/ Collection Guide - A description that consists of contextual information about an archival resource. It usually consolidates information about a collection including acquisition, provenancs, history, scope of collection, etc. 

Inclusive Dates - The dats of the odest and most recent items in a collection, series or folder. 

Linear Feet - Used in an archive to measure the size of a collection, a measurement of 12 inches. Rather that state the size of a collection by the number of items it contains, archives note collection size by describing the physical space it occupies.

Manuscript/ mss. - A manuscript often reders to a handwritten or unpublished document such as a letter, diary, or personal notes. It may also refer to an author's draft of a book or article. The comonly used abbreviation is mss. 

Papers - Used to identify archival materials, usually records created and originally kept by an individual or family. 

Provenance - Information that details the origin, custody, and ownership of an item or collection.

Repository - A space or institution focused on the care and storage or items. Used to describe both the physical space of stored items, digital and physical, or the organization that controls those items. It can be used as a descriptor for an archive.

Series - A group of similar records arranged according to a filing system that are related as a result of being created, recieved, or used in teh same activity. Each item has its own title, also bearing a collective title for the group as a whole. 

The IUB libraries and the Campus Writing Program provide detailed information on creating reference citations within style guides like MLA, APA, and Chicago. Available here are links to their style guides and published information on citations.