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HIS 378: Kelleher

Research guide for Dr. Kelleher's History 378 classes.

Evaluating Primary Sources

Basic evaluation criteria for all sources:

Adapted from The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007):

Author/Authority: Who created the item? 

  • What is his or her affiliation? 
  • What is his or her relationship to the information contained in the source?

Audience and Purpose

  • Who is the intended audience? 
  • Why was the item created?

Accuracy and Completeness

  • Is the evidence reliable? 
  • Are the important points covered? 
  • How does the source compare to other similar sources? 
  • What may have been left out?

Footnotes and Documentation

Are the author's sources in secondary and reference literature clearly identified with complete citations to allow you to find the original source yourself?

Perspective and Bias

How do the author's bias and perspective inform the arguments and evidence presented?


More evaluation strategies from Lafayette College - Evaluating Primary Sources

Searching for Primary Sources using the Web

Using the Web for finding primary sources. The free web is one of the richest sources of primary source material but it requires the user to carefully evaluate what they find.

It is not hard to find primary sources on the open Internet search, but you must assess the validity and quality of the source.

Try some of these techniques in GOOGLE

Use these primary source keywords in searches, make sure to try different ones.

  • documents
  • texts
  • sources
  • "primary sources"
  • "personal narratives"
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • oral history
  • testimony

SAMPLE TOPIC: Documents of the Salem Witch Trials

  • Search Examples
    • salem and witch and documents
  • use quotation marks "to find phrases" "to find words next to each other". Put in quotation marks "primary sources" as a synonym for documents or texts
    • Example: salem and witch and "primary sources"
  • if you want to find synonyms in the same search, use OR in capitols (and your OR statements in parentheses).
    • Example: ​​​salem  and ("witch trials" OR witchcraft) and (documents​ OR "primary sources" OR "original texts")

SAMPLE TOPIC: Segregation in the United States

  • Search Techniques
    • use OR to find synonyms in the same search strategy:
      • Example: (segregated OR segregating OR segregation OR "jim crow" OR "separate but equal")
    • combine with some synonyms terms relating to primary document
      • Example: (documents OR sources OR diaries) and (segregated OR segregating OR segregation OR "jim crow" OR "separate but equal") 

Consider searching for your topics in only certain domains of the Internet by entering these terms at the end of our search. Government sites (site:gov) or American sites (site:edu, may be inclined toward more reliability. You must assess this!)

  • site:gov (will find only U.S. or State government documents)
  • site:edu (will find only U.S. academic institution sites)
  • site:org (will find only non-profit sites, museums, organizations)


  • "bracero program" and california site:gov
  • "oral histories" site:edu

Some Recommended Web Sites

Professor Recommended Resources

Other Resources