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Searching for primary sources

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The main job of historians is to interpret the past using evidence. Evidence comes from primary sources: original, first-hand accounts from or of the time period/event under consideration, usually produced during or very shortly after that time period/event. Consult the library guide for examples. Be sure that when searching any of these databases that you are using your date limiters.

To complete research assignment #2, search at least two of the following databases and locate at least one primary source (if you’re finding lots of great primary sources, include more than one!):

  • The Making of the Modern World (Contains over 62,000 titles from 1450-1914, you may want to limit to English – excellent for topics that address European colonialism).
  • Historical/Older Newspapers (actually a larger list of newspaper databases).
  • The Times of London (British newspaper with broad global coverage, dates from 1788).
  • Historical New York Times (American newspaper with broad global coverage, dates from 1851).
  • Avalon Project (prominent legal documents, including treaties, constitutions, colonial charters).
  • Search It (find historical primary sources with a search like this: your topic AND (diar* OR letter* OR interview* OR speech*).
  • JSTOR (Journal Storage – contains mostly scholarly journal articles that, if published during the time period, could serve as primary evidence. Be sure to use your date limiter).
  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set (US congressional documents, dates from 1790s. Put your topic keyword(s) in the text box, you can change the “in Citation Text” pull-down select to “in Title” to narrow your search. Any topic relevant document you find in this database should be a primary source).
  • Academic Search Complete (Put your topic keyword(s) in the top text box, then put (diar* OR letter* OR interview* OR speech*) in the second box. You can change the “Select a Field (optional)” pull-down menu item to “TX All Text” to broaden your search as needed. Do not use newspaper, magazine or journal articles).
  • WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (located in Holland Library – you can actually go and see these sources).
  • Internet Archive (this one is tricky as it contains lots of non-historical stuff, but occasionally turns up some great primary sources – depending on the topic).
  • The United Nations document section contains historical and contemporary UN documents related to international topics.
  • Reader’s Guide Retrospective contains collections of the most-popular general-interest periodicals in the twentieth-century United States (think Time, Newsweek, Life).