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Students Guide to Special Collections and University Archives Research: Research Tools

What are Primary Sources in Archives?

Archives are any material identified as having lasting historical value. These items document the lives and activities of people, associations, businesses, and university departments. Most often, they were given to the archives by the people who created them, so that they could be preserved and made available to others. The size of these collections may be as small as a single item or large enough to fill hundreds of boxes. These materials are non-circulating, which means that they can only be used in the Special Collections and University Archives reading room. 

Archives, also sometimes referred to as manuscripts, are what is known as primary sources because they provide a first-hand account of an event by someone who witnessed it or experienced it. Whereas secondary research sources have been interpreted by others, archival primary sources are evidence from the past, from which many secondary sources are generated. Secondary sources can sometimes be used as primary sources if they offer information about the time created. Archives are unique, unpublished resources that are not available anywhere else. Some examples of primary sources in our collections are as follows:

Rare Books

The University Library has acquired books from individual collectors. The books in these named collections and all other rare books can be found in the Library Catalog. These books cannot be checked out and must be read in Chicago in the Special Collections and University Archives reading rooms in Richard J. Daley Library or in Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago.

Some of our Rare Book Collections include:

  • Atlantic Slave Trade Collection consists of over 300 years of legal, religious and secular publications documenting the Atlantic slave trade, including works issuing from Spain, France, Portugal, England, Africa and the Americas.
  • The Burnham and Hammond Architectural Library collection reveals the sources and inspirations of this prominent Chicago architectural firm of Daniel Burnham, Jr., Hubert Burnham, and C. Herrick Hammond, whose commissions include exhibit halls and ethnic villages at the Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933 and 1934, and the Carbide and Carbon Building.
  • The Chicago Prefire (1871) Imprints Collection contains almost 500 items published in Chicago before the Great Fire of 1871.
  • The Lawrence J. Gutter Collection of Chicagoana consists of more than 6,000 items including printed books, periodicals, maps, prints, and manuscripts relating to the history of Chicago. This collection, amassed by Mr. Gutter beginning in 1948 was acquired by the UIC Library in 1982 and is the foundation for the Daley Library’s Rare Book Collection.
  • The Joseph H. Kiefer Collection contains rare books in urology, surgery, and general medicine published before the Twentieth century, focusing on the subjects of bladder stones, venereal diseases, and the history of uroscopy. The collection also includes works about human sexuality, medical history, medical biography, and art and humor in medicine. A printed, annotated catalog, The Joseph H. Kiefer Catalog of History of Urology of Medicine, compiled by Richard Y. Meier, lists all publications in the collection.
  • The Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe Collection contains approximately 600 volumes from the architect’s personal library. It includes works about art and architecture, science, history, ethics and philosophy, primarily in English and German.
  • The Political and Social Activism Pamphlet Collection totals around 11,000 pamphlets, published nationally and internationally between the mid-19th and late-20th centuries, and covering such topics as trade unionism, race relations, and left and right-wing political movements.

Archival Databases