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Art History

Scholarly resources for study and research in Art History

What are primary sources?

Primary sources provide first-hand accounts or documentation of events, or are artifacts of those events. These are sources that you are generally analyzing or interpreting as a component of your research. Examples might include:

  • letters or correspondence between artists, patrons, dealers, friends, etc.
  • records of sales or payments between artists and patrons or dealers; auction records
  • exhibition reviews or eyewitness news reports (such as accounts of the 1913 Armory Show, or Worlds' Fairs)
  • exhibition catalogs documenting works shown and/or arrangement of those materials in an exhibition
  • oral histories, memoirs, or autobiographies
  • historic news and newspapers

Primary sources can also include the original object of study, such as original paintings or photographs, historic fashion or furniture, or other objects and remnants of material culture.

Where do I find primary sources?

While many primary sources have been scanned and made available online (especially historic newspapers), you may also need to visit to an archive, library, or museum that owns the original materials.

Mason Libraries have many sources available in our collections and databases. In the DC Metro, you also have access to dozens of valuable archives and primary materials. See below for a selection of archives in the area.

Find Primary Sources for Art History & History

You can also view more guides to History and Primary Source Research to see primary source collections by time period and geographic region.

Libraries & Archives in DC

The Smithsonian Institution is one of the largest museum and research complexes in the world, with over 21 libraries and archives supporting the needs of researchers and curators. See a listing of all Smithsonian Libraries, or select from some of the highlights below.