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Archives and Special Collections at Penn State Harrisburg

This guide provides an overview of the resources available from Archives and Special Collections in the Madlyn L. Hanes Library, part of the Penn State University Libraries, at Penn State Harrisburg.

About Instruction Services and Requests

Archives and Special Collections is open by appointment only on weekdays (Monday through Wednesday) during the academic semesters and during the summer and winter intersessions.  We remain committed to the safety and support of our students, colleagues, and community.  Library faculty and staff in the archives look forward to collaborating with teaching faculty and integrating archival literacy instruction into the curriculum at Penn State Harrisburg, including the following options:  synchronous (archivist/librarian-led in-person and Zoom workshops), asynchronous (web-based learning objects, video tutorials, and LibGuides), and embedded archivist/librarian options.  

Please contact Heidi Abbey Moyer ( for additional information and to identify the best options and strategies for you and your students.  In order to accommodate faculty and student needs, please contact Heidi at least two weeks in advance of any archival instruction requests.

registration form iconAccess the Libraries' Instruction Request Form online. 

Teaching and Learning with Primary and Secondary Sources

Document Boxes in Archives and Special CollectionsWhat is a PRIMARY SOURCE?  


These are two of the most common questions received in the archives!  It is sometimes unclear whether or not a source is primary or secondary.  Always check with your professor, a librarian, or the archivist. 


Definition of a Primary Source

There are numerous definitions for the term "PRIMARY SOURCE," and they differ depending upon the context of the source's use. However, the simplest definition is a firsthand or eyewitness account or evidence of an event, object, person, or even a work of art.  Some examples include, but are not limited to the following:

  • archival materials (correspondence, manuscripts, etc.)
  • artwork (drawings, paintings, photographs, sculpture, etc.)
  • autobiography
  • dairies
  • emails or text messages
  • empirical studies
  • films
  • interviews or eyewitness accounts of an event
  • maps
  • newspaper content; note that newspaper content can also be a secondary source
  • research data
  • sound recordings, including music and oral histories
  • speeches

Definition of a Secondary Source

By contrast to a primary source, the definition of a "SECONDARY SOURCE" is information reported second hand by someone else.  You can also think of a secondary source as an interpretation, analysis, or evaluation of a primary source.  Secondary sources are removed from the original event, object, person, or even a work of art.  Examples of secondary sources include, but are not limited to the following:

  • reviews of artwork, films, songs, poetry, etc.
  • book reviews
  • biography
  • criticism or commentary about a speech
  • interpretation of research data
  • newspaper content; note that newspaper content can also be a primary source
  • summary of an eyewitness account

Brochure for Understanding Primary and Secondary Sources

Collaborations with Teaching Faculty

Archival Instruction with Dr. Anne Verplanck and StudentsArchives and Special Collections contains valuable primary sources that are useful not only to undergraduate students, but also essential to graduate-level scholarly inquiry in the humanities and social sciences at Penn State Harrisburg. 

Among the ten archival collections in the repository, three are heavily used by the School of Humanities faculty and students every semester:  the Alice K. Marshall Women's History Collection, the Penn State Harrisburg College History Archives, and the J. Randall Plummer Collection.  For example, the Alice Marshall Collection has been used often and has been heavily integrated into the teaching and learning objectives for the following humanities courses:

  • AMST 100:  Introduction to American Studies (American Home Life)
  • AMST 100:  Introduction to American Studies (Youth Culture)
  • AMST 104:  Women and the American Experience, featured nearly every semester since Fall 2011
  • AMST 105:  American Popular Culture and Folklife
  • AMST 491:  Digital Tools in the Humanities
  • AMST 491 W:  American Themes, American Eras
  • AMST 502:  Problems in American Studies
  • AMST 591:  Seminar in American Studies
  • HIST 151:  Technology and Society in American History
  • KINES 100:  The Cultural and Behavioral Foundations of Kinesiology Cultural and Behavioral Foundations of Kinesiology

Additionally, the Penn State Harrisburg College History Archives has been featured in CAS 100:  Effective Speech as well as HONOR 301H:  The Role of Knowledge in Society.  Another resource that is regularly requested by faculty for use in the humanities curriculum is the J. Randall Plummer Photography Collection.  Featuring museum-quality fine art photography from the mid-1800s through the 1970s, the Plummer Collection serves as a foundational teaching resource for undergraduate students in several visual arts courses such as the following:

Opportunities to collaborate with faculty across the curriculum are welcomed!  Please contact Heidi Abbey Moyer ( for more information.