Skip to main content

HIS 401 & 495, Prof. Honhart: Finding Primary Sources

This guide is specifically for Prof. Honhart's HIS 401 and 495 capstone sequence, Struggles for Rights in Modern Europe.

What Primary Sources Do You Need?

First, consider what kinds of primary sources you might need.

Examples of primary sources and possible places to find them
Personal journals, letters, memoirs

Libraries (Books)

Archives (Personal papers)

Newspapers, magazines

Libraries (Indexes and archives)

Archives (Individual articles)

Newspaper web sites

Films

Libraries

Film archives

Web sites

Census data

Libraries

Historical societies

 

From there, plan your approach. Many library catalogs list archival materials, but others include archival materials in a separate area of their web sites. Browse library home pages for links to their "Archives" or "Special Collections" pages.


If you're using a catalog, play around with your search terms. Many tools use a standardized vocabulary to describe items. For example, the URI Libraries Search uses the Subject subheadings "Personal narratives," "Correspondence," and "Diaries" to classify certain types of information. Look at likely results to form further searches. WorldCat uses the same naming conventions, but other sources may use different terms.

Memoirs, Journals, and Letters

One category of primary sources are those written by individuals at the time, describing events during their lives. These include memoirs, journals, diaries, letters, and so on.

Most catalogs (such as our catalog, Brown's JOSIAH catalog, and WorldCat) use standardized terms to describe these kinds of materials, making it easier for researchers to locate them.

Below are terms used and some example searches. To find your own: search the catalog using these terms with your topics. For example, civil war and personal narratives.

US Government Publications

If your topic is concerns the US, or international relations, US government publications may be helpful sources.

Nuremberg Trial Sources

Newspaper Articles

Note: newspapers are a little tricky -- you need to know the dates of appropriate articles, and you need to be able to access the newspapers, whether they're in print, online, or microfilm.

To find newspaper articles, think about the time frame you're researching, and perhaps the geographic location. For example: 1940s New York, or London during World War I. Larger newspapers are more likely to have indexes. For smaller papers, check libraries in the geographic area, as many will have local history resources.

Sometimes, you can just browse newspapers around particular dates or events. If you're searching for a topic in a newspaper, you'll need to use an appropriate newspaper index to find citations to relevant articles. Below are a few examples.

Magazine Articles

Magazine articles may also provide insightful primary information. The following tools can help you find magazine articles.

Archival Material Databases

Additional Web Resources

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.