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University Archives

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Primary Sources

Getting started using the institutional records and publications of Boston College, as well as Faculty and Alumni papers.

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are materials containing firsthand accounts of events and created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness. Examples include letters; oral histories; photographs, motion pictures, and videos; and newspaper articles contemporaneous with the events described (although the reporter may have compiled the story from witnesses, rather than being an eyewitness).

Adapted from: Richard Pearce-Moses, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, Society of American Archivists, 2005.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Yearbooks

Photograph Collections

Photographs are wonderful primary sources. Areas of photographic holdings in the University Archives are:

When working with photographs, you should be prepared for/aware of a few things:

  • You'll be asked to wear gloves to protect the chemical surface of the photograph from the oils of your fingertips.
  • Copyrighted photographs are mixed in with photographs for which Boston College owns the copyright. This can be an issue if reproductions are desired for other than personal use.
  • Not all photographs are dated. This can be frustrating; sometimes detective work can help you (what vintage are the cars? how old does that famous person look? etc.).
  • When using a photograph for research, consider: what was just beyond the frame of this photo? who took the photo and did they have an agenda? are the details informative?

Office Records

Records of Boston College offices are primarily closed; however, researchers can request permission to access specific files. While some lists of office records are available at the Burns Library, it is often best to start this phase of your research by talking to archives staff. The list of offices and their identifying "record group" numbers is attached.

Faculty and Alumni Papers

Faculty and Alumni papers more closely represent personal papers than office records. These collections -- sometimes volumnious and other times quite small -- document the personal experience of various aspects of life and work at Boston College and academic pursuits.

Some of these papers can be found through the catalog. Some are not yet catalogued. When in doubt, please contact the archives staff and ask!

Dissertations and Theses

Boston College began offering graduate programs in the 1920s. Since then the format of masters theses and doctoral dissertations has changed with the times: from the early technology of print books to microforms (both microfilm and microfiche) and now to PDFs. Please see the guide on Dissertations & Theses to learn how to optimize your search for a Boston College dissertation or masters thesis.