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History Research Guide

Steps for Searching for Primary Sources

Try these steps:

  1. Search the Library catalog using your preferred keywords AND search SUBJECTS like: correspondence, diaries, or personal narratives
  2. Search in WorldCat. Access through HSU Library Databases A-Z link. Also try a keyword and subjects search. Your searches might pull internet, archival, map, and sound recording resources
  3. Search the Internet. There are many great special and digital collections out there, but it's a matter of finding them for topics. Try including phrases like "primary sources" or "digital collections" in your internet searches.
    1. This is a great link to start with: http://rusahistory.libguides.com/content.php?pid=622865&sid=5152883
    2. This is also helpful in determining subject headings: http://libguides.mit.edu/c.php?g=175886&p=1160823


Finding Primary Sources in Books

These are some of the most commonly used subject headings to describe published books that include primary sources. Do a subject keyword search in the HSU Catalog to locate primary sources in books:

  • Correspondence
  • Description and travel
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Personal narratives
  • Pictorial works

Narrowing Down by Topic

Now that we know how to locate primary sources in books, try adding additional subject keywords to locate books on your topic of interest. Some examples may include:

  • Japanese Americans interviews
  • World War, 1914-1918 personal narratives
  • Civil War diaries
  • Mexico description and travel


There are several places to search for photographs as primary resources. Try these to start:

Primary Sources


A primary source is:

  • a contemporaneous, firsthand account of an event;
  • data obtained through original research;
  • original, creative works of art such as poems or paintings, etc.


Primary sources can be:

  • manuscripts;
  • diaries or journals;
  • correspondence or letters;
  • photographs;
  • newspaper clippings;
  • government documents;
  • interviews or oral histories;
  • original works of art.

Primary sources can also be reproduced in published books such as:

This book tells the firsthand account of William Anderson's travels through the American West in the early 1830s, even though the book was published in 1967.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are works that interpret or analyze primary research, data, or firsthand accounts of an event.