French Language and Literature

Resources, both online and elsewhere, for the French language and literature.

Web Sites

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are created at the time of an historical event or during a particular time period.  In literature, they often includes a writer's personal papers, drafts, correspondence, etc. They can also include:

  • Diaries, journals, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts.
  • Memoirs and autobiographies.
  • Records collected by government agencies, such as births, deaths, marriages; permits and licenses issued; census data, etc.).
  • Records of organizations connected with a writer.
  • Published materials (books, magazine and journal articles, newspaper  articles) written at the time about a particular event.
  • Photographs, audio  and video recordings, and film.
  • Artifacts of all kinds: physical objects, buildings, furniture, tools, appliances and household items, clothing, toys.

Selected Resources at MSEL

Dreyfus Collection

Pierre Lafon Papers

Gustave Flaubert Letter

Jean-Paul Sartre Manuscript

Avant-garde Periodicals

We have a very rich collection of primary sources in the following areas. Ask the librarian for French for more information:

  • The Commune
  • Bibliothèque bleue, Causes Célèbres and Canards
  • Revolutionary Pamphlets

Guides to Archival Research in the Eisenhower Library

  • Archives and research in France. Gen Ref CD 1190 .W45
  • Les sources de l'histoire littéraire aux Archives Nationales. M-level Gen Ref: PQ 142 .F7 1961
  • Les archives- pourquoi? comment?: la recherche aujourd'hui dans les archives en France. B-level: CD 1191 .H45
  • La recherche historique en archives: XVIe-XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles. B-level: CD 1191 .R431
  • Lire et comprendre les archives des XVIe et XVIIe siècles.  D-level:  Z 115 .F7 D45
  • La recherche historique en archives: XIXe et XXe siècles. B-level: CD 1191 .R43 1996
  • Bibliothèques et archives: comment se documenter? Guide pratique... A Level Gen Ref: Z 797 .A1 C47
  • Guide de l'utilisateur des inventaires des Archives Nationales.  B-level: CD 1196 1990a
  • The Directory of university libraries in Europe. A Level Gen Ref: Z 675 .U5 D57 includes contact information and holdings. No subject index, but you can scan the Areas of Specialization for each institution.
  • Dictionary of archival terminology/Dictionnaire de terminologie archivistique. Gen Ref: CD 945 .D531
  • Finding archive catalogs or guides in the Libraries Catalog: do a Keyword Search on Subject keywords such as archives, guide, archives nationales, france, manuscripts, catalogs, handbooks. Another good subject keyword is Sources. This gets you primary literature. There are many indexes and guides to individual archives, or archives in specific subjects areas, such as music, history, literature, etc.

Why Archives?

  • Working with primary sources sets your research and writing apart from others'.
  • Grants are often focused on research using archival sources.
  • Manuscripts (of all kinds) do not yield their meaning easily. It's up to the researcher to make sense of them.
  • Often what you find is not what you were looking for. Be awake to new discoveries!


Archive Finder: Indexes US and UK archives

ArchiveGrid: A database for locating special collections worldwide.

WorldCat: Limit your search to "Archival materials". Manuscripts back to the Middle Ages