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Historical Research

guide to select resource for historical research, including online digital collections, and print and microform collections in the Blume Library, including primary sources

What is a primary source?

A primary source is a first hand account of an event or an object or document created by a person or in a place being researched.

Primary sources are contextual.  

For instance, a newspaper article may be primary source for one topic (an first hand account from the time being studied) OR if could be a secondary source (discussion of an event that occurred in the past). There is nothing inherent in a document that makes it a primary or secondary source. The content, not the format/container, determines if a item is a primary source for your topic.

"Primary sources are 'original' materials that provide you with the 'raw data' or evidence you will use to develop, test, and ultimately justify your hypothesis or claim. What kinds of material count as primary sources vary significantly by field. In history, primary sources are artifacts or documents that come directly from the period or event you are studying: letters, diaries, objects, maps, even clothing." (Booth, Craft of Research, 4th ed., p. 66)

 

Terms to help locate primary sources

To find primary sources on you topic, try searching you topic in combination with one of the following search terms that focus on the format.

Search Term When To Use It
sources generic term, often produces the most results
archive use with organizations, individuals and families
archival resources use with topics and geographic areas (counties, cities, etc.)
correspondence use with individuals, familes, classes of people, ethnic groups
diaries use with individuals and families
manuscripts use with individuals
notebooks, sketchbooks, etc. use with individuals
personal narratives use with names of events
personnel records use with organizations and military units
records and correspondence

use with organizations and groups

speeches, addresses, etc

use with individuals or groups

 

Example Search

A search in WorldCat.org or the Library Catalog on the terms "slaves and correspondence" finds books that includes primary source material on African Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction. You can search for multiple keywords, in the Library Catalog or in Worldcat, by combining multiple terms with the word OR.  Ex: (sources OR correspondence OR diaries OR manuscripts OR narratives OR personnel records OR speeches)

WorldCat interfaces

Access to the Library Catalog from the Blume Library