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HS 3305 - History of United States Foreign Policy

Resources to conduct secondary and primary research on U.S. foreign policy topics

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)


Search Tips - Finding Primary Sources in Books

Discover, the Library Catalog, and many other research databases use subject terms to help identify the primary topics of a book, article, or other source.  Subject searching will help you reduce the number of irrelevant sources in your results, particularly if you have a high number of results with your keyword search.  

Works on U.S. foreign policy often have the subject term: United States Foreign Relations.  You can add other keywords to this search or add specific subjects like the name of a country, war (Vietnam War, World War, Cold War), a century (18th century, 19th century, 20th century), etc. 

To find primary sources on you topic, try searching you topic (ex: Cold War, Vietnam, September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001) in combination with one of the following words:

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 Discover, the Library Catalog, or WorldCat on the terms "Vietnam and sources" retrieves some books that includes primary source material from the Vietnam War era.

Two Versions of Worldcat

Interlibrary Loan

If our library does not have a book or article you need, St. Mary's University students, faculty and staff may order it through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

Don't forget to ask a librarian for help if you have questions. Students, faculty, and staff of the Law School must contact the Law Library for Interlibrary Loan services. 

Government Sources

Be sure to check the Government Sources tab for a primary materials produced by United States Congress, agencies, and offices.