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History of Science, Technology, and Medicine: Finding Primary Sources

General guide to Duke library resources in science, technology and medicine.



History of Medicine Collection

Rubenstein Library

This special collection  on the history of medicine includes rare books, archival sources and realia. The Archivist in charge of this collection is Rachel Ingold.

The web home for the History of Medicine collection is HERE

Searching for Primary Sources in the History of Science.

Science and history define primary sources in two  different ways. In history, a primary source is a document from the time period. In science a primary source is an original  report of an experiment or observation by the researcher.

In the field of history of science, a primary source is a document that gives historical evidence and, typically, was created at the time being studied, by someone with first-hand knowledge. 

  • A letter or diary, photograph, play script, census schedule, tax ledger, Congressional debate, court record, advertisement, telegram, or even something as simple as a  drawing may be considered as a primary source.
  • Manuscripts and archives are special forms of unpublished primary sources the originals of which can only be housed and examined in a single library.  Archives refer to the records made or received and maintained by an institution or organization. Manuscripts have usually referred to handwritten items though today papers of an individual or a family are called manuscripts though they may include drawings, typescripts, etc. Although the originals of such materials can only be housed and accessed in the holding library, often digital copies are available online.
  • Newspaper, radio and TV news reports may be considered primary sources since  they are produced during the historical period, but these sources may need to be explained in texts as primary sources becaues they often include the analysis that characterizes a secondary source. 
  • Secondary sources from the  period (articles, handbooks etc.) can be used as primary sources, if they are situated so as to portray  a period, or to reveal information to which a person might have been exposed.

Many primary sources in the history of science are published in digital form.

Typically, materials from the Rubenstein Library at Duke will function as primary sources.

Many primary sources can be found in the library catalog under heading such as:

History-- Science -- Sources

You might also try subheadings like: "-diaries", "-personal narratives"

Your Librarian

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Carson Holloway
Librarian for Military History, History of Science and Technology, Britain, Ireland and Commonwealth

Perkins and Lilly Libraries