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HIST 430 Middle East & the U.S.

Tips for Searching for Primary Resources

  • Start early & give yourself lots of time!
    • Primary resource searching is some of the most difficult and time consuming searching. Don't be discouraged it it takes a while.
  • Use Google searching to your advantage.
    • Try searching for your broad topic and "digital collection," "special collection," or "archive." Essentially, you're using Google to find where the pools of primary resources are so that you can then search within those for your more specific topic. For example, you can search for "Middle East Digital Collection" or "Syria Archive" etc.
  • Learn to figure out systems
    • Every primary resource database, digital collection, special collection, etc. has a slightly different interface, but they all work similarly. There are generally browse features and search features, and the search features often have filtering options. Date range filters can be especially useful. 
  • Mine secondary resource reference lists, bibliographies, etc. for any direction in finding collections or bibliographies of primary resources.
  • Learn how to search library catalogs for primary resources.

 

Searching for Print Primary Resources in Library Catalogs

Most library catalogs (including CONSORT, OhioLink, WorldCat, and HathiTrust) use the same controlled vocabulary to apply subjects to items in the catalogs: Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). This means that once you find subject headings that work well for your topic, you can apply them across all these systems. LCSH are not intuitive like natural language keyword searching that we do via Google. For example, the subject heading for World War I is "World War, 1939-1945." Most catalogs will allow you to do an advanced keyword search within the subject heading field. "Primary resource" is not an LCSH heading or subdivision, so searching with that phrase won't help. But there are several subdivisions that contain primary resources that you can search for and you can use them in combination with your topic keywords in the subject headings advanced search. The table below outlines LCSH subdivisions that are helpful for searching for primary resources with examples.

Useful Subheadings to Identify Primary Source Material
Subdivision What Does It Identify? Used Under What Kind of Heading? Example(s)
Archival Resources Brief descriptions of types of documents/historical records, about a particular place or topic, available at an institution or institutions

Countries, etc.

Topics

Canada--History--Archival resources
Archives Collections of documents or historical records including notes, correspondence, minutes, photographs, legal papers

Names of people

Corporate bodies

Educational institutions

Types of corporate bodies/educational institutions

Classes of persons

Ethnic Groups

Fermi, Enrico, 1901-1954--Archives

Autographs

Collections or discussions of the person's autograph or handwriting

Names of people

Classes of persons

Composers--Autographs

Biography

     

Caricatures and cartoons

Collections or discussions of caricatures or pictorial humor

Names of people

Corporate bodies

Classes of persons

Ethnic groups

Names of wars

Topical headings

New York (State)--Politics and government--Caricatures and cartoons

Catalogs

Works listing objects located in organizations, institutions or particular places

Names of artists

Corporate bodies

Types of organizations

Fitzwilliam Museum--Catalogs

Comic books, strips, etc.

 

Names of people

Topical headings

Spiegelman, Art--Comic books, strips, etc.

Correspondence

Letters from and/or to the person or people; can be subdivided by -Catalogs

Names of people

Classes of persons

Ethnic groups

Nuns--Ireland--Correspondence

Description - [dates]

Add -Views for pictorial works

Cities

 

Description and travel- [date]

 

Places

Quebec (Province)--Description and travel

Diaries

Collections or discussions of the person's diaries and for individual diaries

Names of persons

Classes of people

Working class women--Massachusetts--Boston--Diaries

Early Works to 1800

     

Facsimiles

 

Types of printed materials

Specific documents

Manuscripts, Belarusian (Old)--Facsimiles

History--Sources

Collections or discussion of contemporary writings such as legal documents, letters, diaries, family papers, etc. assembled at a later time to serve as source material for research

Countries

Names of people

Classes of persons

Ethnic groups

Topical headings not inherently historical

Civil rights--United States--History--Sources

Interviews

Works consisting of transcripts of what was said during the course of the interview or conversations with a person on one or more occasions

Names of people

Classes of people

Authors, Spanish--20th century--Interviews

Library Resources

Works describing the resources and special collections available

Countries

Names of people

Corporate bodies

Classes of persons

Ethnic groups

Topical headings

Health education--Library resources

Manuscripts

Manuscripts - Catalogs

Manuscripts - Facsimiles

Manuscripts - Indexes

Manuscripts - Microform catalogs

Literary authors

Literary works that enter under title

Sacred works

Groups of authors

Names of literatures

Topical headings

Music--Manuscripts--Netherlands--Utrecht

Maps

Individual maps or collections of maps

Countries, etc.

Corporate bodies

Topical headings

Japan--Civilization--Maps

Notebooks, sketchbooks

Collections or discussions of the person's notebooks or sketchbooks

Names of people

Tsang, Fu Ji, 1958--Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.

Personal narratives

Personal reminiscences or accounts by participants

Names of events

Names of wars

Bataan, Battle of, Philippines, 1942--Personal narratives

Pamphlets

     

Pictorial Works

 

Names of people

Named entities

Classes of persons

Ethnic groups

Individual wars

Topical headings

Dachshunds--Pictorial works

Portraits

Collections or discussion of portraits of persons living after 1400; use --Art for those living before 1400

Names of people

Rabbis--Portraits

Posters

Collections or discussion of posters depicting the person, group, etc.

Names of people

Corporate bodies

Classes of persons

Ethnic groups

Individual wars

Topical headings

Local transit--United States--Posters

Self Portraits

Reproductions or discussion of self-portraits by the person

Names of people

Goya, Francisco, 1746-1828--Self-portraits

Speeches

     

Statues

Works discussing or containing reproductions of statues of the person

Names of people

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Statues

adapted from MIT Libraries History: Finding Primary Sources: Library of Congress Subject HeadingsCC BY-NC

 

Guide to Primary Sources

"Students and researchers now have greater access to primary source materials for historical research than ever before. The traditional use of sources available in print and microfilm continues to be the foundation for research, but in some cases documents, letters, maps, photographs of ancient artifacts and other primary material are available online in different formats from free websites or subscription services on the internet. Users of primary sources have always needed to examine their sources critically, but now with the proliferation of electronic resources from a wide variety of web site producers, evaluation is more important than ever before. Users of web resources must now consider the authenticity of documents, what person or organization is the internet provider, and whether the electronic version serves their needs. This brief guide is designed to provide students and researchers with information to help them evaluate the internet sources and the quality of primary materials that can be found online."

Denison Libraries, 100 W College, Granville, Ohio 43023
Phone: 740-587-6235, email: reference@denison.edu
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