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Designed for history students, this guide takes you through the Library’s resources to improve your research.

Other Resources

Primary Sources


Don't let the idea of finding Primary Sources overwhelm you. This page will take you step-by-step through identifying, searching for, and understanding Primary Sources. 

Primary Sources: Framing the Search

Primary Sources: Framing the Search


Primary Sources: Framing the Search

Think about the types of records or documents that would have been created at the time period surrounding events and issues related to your topic. Look for these things! Below are some guiding questions that will frame your search for various types of resources (primary sources listed in parentheses).

  • What was life/society like at the time? (magazines, chronicles, newspapers, artwork)
  • What were the experiences, beliefs, or priorities of relevant people / groups / organizations at the time? (autobiographies, interviews, diaries, letters, advertisements, manifestos​)
  • What was the government attitude? What was the government of the day saying? (proclamations, monuments, records of debates, legislation, law codes​)
  • How many people were involved in or affected by this issue / event? (statistics, official records, estimates based on material culture or remains​)
  • What were people being told, what did they communicate? (newspapers, artwork, photographs, letters, secret communications)
  • What did things look like? (artwork, photographs, guide books for tourists, illustrations, postcards​)


* Special thanks for the librarians at Loyola Marymount University (LA) with their creation of much of the content regarding primary source searching on this guide.

Primary Source Keywords

Primary Sources: Keywords
Primary Sources: Keywords to Add to the Search

In addition to your topic keywords and subject terms, make a list of keywords you can use to search for primary sources, specifically focusing on the types of materials you may want. 

Below are two lists of potential terms and an image of a search in WorldCat Research Station using these concepts.

Primary source search on civil war

When searching for multiple source types that are related (see diaries, etc. above), use the all-caps OR in between the related words to expand your search and increase searching efficencies.

Primary Source Keywords
  • "documentary history"
  • memoir
  • autobiography
  • diaries
  • letters
  • pamphlets
  • ephemera               
  • speeches
  • eyewitness
  • correspondence
  • interview(s)
  • "personal narrative"


Primary Source Collections Online

Primary Sources: Online Collections

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