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HIS 378: Kelleher: Searching for Primary Sources

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

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.

Review this recommended Web Guide before you start your search: Evaluating Primary Sources on the Web. An excellent web guide by the American Library Association includes search strategies, recommended resources, and evaluation tips


Try a search on your topic. Type in your topic include the words “primary source”

Example: “roman religion” “primary sources”

Also try limiting your results to .edu, .org, OR .gov web sites. For example:

"roman religion" "primary sources" site:edu

Some Recommended Web Sites

Searching for Primary Resources Using Library Resources


Often one of the most challenging parts of writing your research paper is finding appropriate primary sources.  The library has a plethora of primary source databases but most are focused on America and Europe.  Of course the Internet is, of course, a rich source of primary source materials but as with all Internet searching the onus of vetting sources falls on you.  I provide a few recommendations below for using Internet sources.

Using the Library Catalog:

When searching in the Library Catalog do a keyword Boolean search and add the word “sources” to your search. Example:
“Thomas Jefferson” and sources

Other keywords to try:

personal narratives

Example searches:
civil war
personal narratives
slave narratives

NOTE: You can also use these techniques in WorldCat

Using Library Databases

Try some of our specialized databases such as the Historical New York Times, Early American Imprints, Early American Newspapers, Pennsylvania Gazette, African American newspapers, Women and Social Movements.

Database Name  Focus Content Time Period

Accessible Archives

America Includes African-American Newspaper Collection, American and WW I, American County histories, the Civil War Newspapers, Godey's Lady's Book, The Liberator, the PA Gazette (America's first "paper of record"), and other American primary source documents 1700s - early 1900s

Adam Matthew Explorer

International Access the entire Adam Matthew Digital Portfolio of published content through 2018. Discover unique primary source content from leading archives and libraries around the world. Includes hundreds of thousands of documents, hundreds of hours of video and oral histories, and thousands of images. Total of 78 collections. View title list 1600s - early 2000s
AP Images International Image database, includes complete archive of AP photos.  Over 3 million images 1840 - current
Digital National Security Archives America Declassified US gov't documents relating to US foreign policy.  Major collections include Afghanistan, Cuban Missile crisis, El Salvador, Irangate, Phillipines 1945 - current
Digital Sanborn Maps America Sanborn fire insurance maps are valuable historical tools for anyone who wants to learn about the history, growth, and development of Pennsylvania cities, towns, and neighborhoods.  1867-1970
Films on Demand America Includes archival news footage and films from American history.  Examples: Nixon's address on Vietnam, WPA films, old TV commercials, WW II footage. 1919 - present
Gale Virtual Reference Library Mostly American Speeches, letters, legislation, treaties, journal entries 19th and 20th centuries
HarpWeek America Popular 19th century news and social magazine Late 19th and early 20th century
Historical Statistics of the United States United States Historical Statistics of the United States is a compendium of statistics about United States. 1790s - 2000s
Life Magazine Archive (EBSCO) America Life Magazine Archive presents an extensive collection of the famed photojournalism magazine, spanning its very first issue in November, 1936 through December, 2000 in a comprehensive cover-to-cover format.  
ProQuest Historical Newspapers America

Search the full text of the following historical newspapers:

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Philadelphia Inquirer
New York Times
Wall St Journal

1786 - 2016
Readex Digital Archives America Includes historical newspaper collection, Early American imprints, and broadsides/ephemera collections 1600s - current
Women and Social Movements America
Brings together books, images, documents, scholarly essays, commentaries, and bibliographies, documenting the multiplicity of women.s activism in public life.
1600 - 2000