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Finding Primary Sources for History Research

How to find books, documents, magazine articles, newspaper articles and other first hand or eyewitness accounts.

Find Primary Book Sources in OneSearch

Described here are several strategies for finding primary book resources in OneSearch service

1. Consider trying to find books that were published at the same time, or CONCURRENT with the historical event or while the subject was alive.

If your topic is Abraham Lincoln:

2. Certain subject keywords (found below) tend to produce high relevance primary resources. Mix one of these words with a topic or phrase

  • SOURCES  These tend to be items containing reproduced documents, or extracts of original documents

EXAMPLE sources and slavery (will find documents original slavery)

  • FACSIMILES These may be modern reproductions of ancient maps, documents, charts and text as they originally appeared.

Example: facsimiles and maps may find antique maps in their original appearance

  • PICTORIAL WORKS  Are primarily images, drawings, photographs, woodcuts, sometimes with explanatory text. Good for finding visual documentation of your topic.

Example: pictorial works and "civil war"

  • PERSONAL NARRATIVES  These are "my story" accounts; "what happened to me during this event".

Example: personal narratives and holocaust will give first hand accounts of World War II genocide.

  • INTERVIEWS  Similar to Personal Narratives, these also relate to someone telling their story, usually to another.

Example: interviews and actors

  • DIARIES  Someone who wrote down their daily activities. A very good source for primary research.

Example: diaries and journeys will find travel diaries

  • ORAL HISTORY  Similarly to Personal Narratives and Interviews, a persons recounting their version of events.

Example: oral history and immigration may find immigrants telling their stories.

Example: correspondence gold rush letters written by explorers, settlers, pioneers and miners

  • PAPERS  A collection of correspondence, letters, works of an individual
  • BIOGRAPHY  A lengthy description of someone's life, often written by another person

NOTE: Try some of these same techniques in the OneSearch Drop Down that reads Books/Media/All CSU and you may get many more CSU titles that you can borrow.

WorldCat To Find 150 Million Books Worldwide!

If you are not finding sufficient primary material thru OneSearch or CSU+, try WorldCat to find over 150 million items in libraries worldwide, (primarily in Anglo-American libraries). This free database will indicate which libraries closest to you might have the item, or you may borrow it through our library services.