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Fall 2023 Library Service Updates

Primary Sources: How to find primary sources

How do I find Primary Sources?

One way to find a primary source is to read through the bibliography of a secondary source. This is because a secondary source, if it offers an in-depth treatment of your topic, will mention speeches, emails, newspaper articles, court cases, first-hand accounts, treaties, etc. – some of which are primary sources. Once you find a primary source listed in the bibliography, your librarian can help you locate it on the shelf or online.

Here are some more tips:

General Tips

In Library Databases

In general:

  • Use the database’s built-in subject guide to find the most successful search words, or brainstorm search words with a librarian.
  • Experiment with advanced searching, in particular the “limit by document types” feature.
  • Use the asterisk (*) after the root word to broaden your search. For example, type mother* to locate information on mothers, mothering, motherhood, etc.
  • Use quotation marks (" ") to search for exact phrases, such as "John Locke" or "rise to power."

Other Sources

In the library's research guidesconsult the relevant research guide. For example, the American History and the World History research guides both contain a tab called “Primary Sources.”

Google / Google Scholar / Google Books: search for the topic plus the words “primary source.” Or search for the topic plus a word that indicates a primary source, such as diary, interview, correspondence, etc.

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