Library Research for History 90: The Practice of History

Primary Sources

It's not always easy to say what is a primary source; be sure to check with your professor and discuss just what might be considered primary source material for the purpose of your research. Generally, primary source materials are considered to be those things--speeches, articles, diaries, news reports--produced at the time of the events you are investigating. The material produced after the fact to explain or explore an event is generally referred to as secondary source material.

Your sources must be fully documented in any written work you produce. It may help to look at the information on style before you start your research, so that you will have all the required documentation at hand when you need it. Then as you write, go back to the resources on style for details on the exact format of your citations.

As always, if you have any questions be sure to ask a Reference Librarian.

Books in Lawrence's Collection | Articles | Databases | Other Sources
Internet Resources | Style Manuals | Definitions of Terms and Abbreviations

Searching for Primary Source Material: Books in LUCIA

After performing a search by author, title, or subject in the Telnet version of LUCIA, you can limit your results by date published. At the first screen of search results, type LIM and you will be given a number of options for limits. When you are presented with the choice of limiting by date, you can enter a specific year, for example, 1945 or you can limit by decade by typing 194.

Keyword searching provides you with additional options for finding primary materials. You can search for any keyword, and add the label PU and a date. Try these examples and see what you find:

Another way to locate primary source materials is to run a keyword search and include any of the following terms with the label SU. Try the following:

To locate even more, try a keyword search for any of the terms above and add SU BIBLIOGRAPHY to your search, for example, SU SOURCES AND SU BIBLIOGRAPHY. This will help you find book-length bibliographies listing primary sources in and beyond our collections.


Searching for Primary Source Material: Articles
Essay and General Literature Index. 1900 - present.
Indexes essays and articles in collections, anthologies, etc.
Reference Indexes

International Index. 1907-1965.
Indexes articles from scholarly journals. Title changed to Social Sciences and Humanities Index.
Reference Indexes

Public Affairs Information Service
Indexes articles, books, conference proceedings, government documents, book chapters, and statistical directories about public affairs and international relations.
Reference Indexes from 1915-1976

Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. 1900-1984.
Indexes articles from popular magazines.
Reference Indexes

Social Sciences and Humanities Index. 1966-1974.
The later title of the International Index. Lives on today as the separate titles Humanities Index and Social Sciences Index.
Reference Indexes


New York Times. 1851-current.
Considered to be the American paper of record. The New York Times is on microfilm near the Reference offices.
New York Times Index--Reference/Microform Area

Times (London, England). 1941-current.
The leading British paper. The Times itself is held on microfilm near the Reference offices.
Times index--Reference Indexes

Primary Source Databases
American Civil War: Letters & Diaries
Contains 460 authors and approximately 32,000 pages of letters, diaries and memoirs. Searchable by names of people, places, battle, day, and more.

Early English Books Online
Texts relevant to English literature, classical literature, history, philosophy, linguistics, political science, history of science, and the fine arts dating from 1475 to 1700.

Perseus Digital Library
"Perseus is an evolving digital library, engineering interactions through time, space, and language." Originally focused on the classical world, Perseus now includes texts relevant to the history of other places and eras.

North American Women's Letters & Diaries
"Includes the immediate experiences of 442 women, as revealed in approximately 50,000 pages of diaries and letters" dating from the Colonial era to 1950. Searchable by authors, sources, years, personal events, and historical events.

Women Writer's Project
Full text collection of writing by women covering a period from 1400 to 1850.

Primary Material from Other Sources

Government Documents are excellent sources for primary source material. See the information listed on the web page for Library Research for History 90: Secondary Sources and go to the section on Government Documents; you should look specifically at the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications.

The History 90: Secondary Sources guide section on Research Guides can also direct you to primary sources. More primary documents may be available on the Web.

Remember to try keyword searches in LUCIA for terms like SU SOURCES AND SU BIBLIOGRAPHY. You will find items like the following titles:

American Diaries : An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals. 2 vols.
Ref. Z5305.U5 A74 1983

Guide to the Manuscripts of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Ref. Z6621 .W77
Ref. Z6621 .W77 Suppl. (2 vols.)

Researchers in American history should be aware of the Evans Collection of Early American Imprints. It contains over 36,000 items published in American between 1639 and 1830, reproduced on microcard. The Evans Collection is cataloged in LUCIA and is shelved near the reference office. See the guide to Using the Evans Collection of Early American Imprints for more details.


Internet Resources
AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History
A substantial list from the University of Kansas.

American Memory
Sources from the Library of Congress.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress
A list with links to some of the major documents held in the collections of the Library of Congress. Sorted by major periods.

The Avalon Project
Documents in law, history, and government from the Yale Law School.

Doing History: Directories Listing Sites for Professional Historians and Doing History: Sites for Popular History
Selected and presented by the History Department at Lawrence.

The Exhibit Hall from the National Archives and Records Administration
Features documents and images.

Historic Government Publications from World War II
A collection of PDF documents from Southern Methodist University featuring just over 200 government documents from World War II.

United States government publications from the University of Louisville's Ekstrom Library.

Internet Resources for History
From the librarians of the Seeley G. Mudd Library. This list includes some of the specific sites mentioned here and more.

The Labyrinth
Resources for Medieval studies, sponsored by Georgetown University.

Making of America
A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Cornell University.

U.S. History: Primary and Secondary Sources.
An article for the November 2001 issue of College and Research Libraries News by Paul A. Frisch. Includes materials related to many aspects of American history, including the Civil War, the New Deal, the Cold War, African-American history, women's history, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* history.

Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War
From the Virginia Center for Digital History

World Wide Web Virtual Library
Organized into four broad categories (Eras and Epochs, Countries and Regions, Historical Subtopics, and Other Useful Information).

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years
From the Library of Congress. Includes a chronological list of documents.
Finding More

Of course, there are many more web resources available that might be useful in your research. Be sure to look at the Internet Resources section of the History 90: Secondary Sources guide.

Digital Librarian
"A librarian's choice of the best of the Web."

INFOMINE for History
From the University of California. You may want to look at the general INFOMINE categories or the resources for Social Sciences & Humanities.

Librarians' Index to the Internet
From the California State Libraries.

The Scout Report Archives
Sources selected and organized by the Internet Scout Project. The Project, located in the Computer Sciences Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is funded by the National Science Foundation. Its mission is to assist in the advancement of resource discovery on the Internet.

Of course, there are many more web resources available that might be useful in your research. For brief background information on how to use some of the many available Internet search engines, see the guide to Selected Search Tools for WWW.

Primary sources on the web may be transcripts or reproductions of original documents. It's as important to evaluate primary sources on the web as secondary ones. You should be sure the documents you find have been made available by a reputable source. There should be some statement about the source of the original document, a description of the process used post it, and the name or names of the person, institution, or organization responsible for making the document available. You may want to consult this guide to Evaluating Internet Resources from the Lawrence library, this guide to Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources from UCLA, or this bibliography on Evaluation of Information Sources.


Style Manuals

Be aware that you may have to include at least two different types of citations for primary materials: citations to original documents (if you use them) and citations to reprints of original documents. Reprints might include anything that appears as a transcript or a facsimile.

Academic Citation and Writing
Style manuals of the humanities, physical sciences, and the social sciences in the Seeley G. Mudd Library.

The Chicago Manual of Style.
A standard source for bibliographic format.
Ref. Z253 .U69 1993

Citing Electronic Documents
This page provides guidance on citing electronic documents and links to other guides, some on specific styles of documentation.

Definitions of terms and abbreviations:

Ref. = Reference collection, first floor
RRef.= Ready reference, shelves behind the reference desk
Periodicals = Current issues; Periodicals Level A
Periodical Back Files = Titles A - C on Periodicals Level A, C - Z on second floor
GovDoc = U.S. Government Documents, second floor
Reference Indexes = Alphabetically arranged at the end of the reference collection
Microform Area = Reading room east of the reference desk, near microform drawers
q. = Oversized books: interfiled in reference; at end of classes in other collections


And as always, if you need help, ask a Reference Librarian.

Created: 30-December-1998
Revised: 10-January-2002
Gretchen Revie, Reference Librarian