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HIST 4463 The French Revolution: Liberty and Death, 1789-1804: Search Strategies

Selected English-language primary sources related to the French Revolution

Suggested Search Strategies

You may need additional English-language primary sources beyond those included in the tab labeled Primary Sources. The considerations, strategies, and examples provided on this tab offer guidance for how to search for additional sources.

Effective Search Strategies

In Summary

  • Brainstorm keywords to describe each aspect of your search (research topic and primary source format) and combine them using what you learned from Advanced Search Strategies handout.
  • Consider which types of primary sources might support the scope of your research; try adding those formats as keywords in your search. 
  • Use the Search Tools recommended on this page.
  • If your first attempt fails, try again (and again) with a variety of keyword combinations.
  • When all else fails, reach out to your librarian!

Primary Source Search Strategies: Considerations

Identify Search Terms

Brainstorm as many keywords or phrases that come to mind. Alternate terms may be used to describe the same event or concept. If you search for one and not the other, you may miss out on some good choices. For example:

  • French Revolution is the most popular phrase used, but you could find different results with a search combining france and revolution
  • If you're focusing on a specific event, try separate searches for key players involved in the event. This may lead you to additional sources.

Primary Source Formats

Primary Sources exist in a variety of formats. These include, but are not limited to:

  • diaries
  • letters or correspondence
  • papers
  • documents
  • personal narratives or personal accounts
  • manuscripts
  • records
  • proceedings
  • newspapers

Try using these terms (used to describe format or type of source) as a keyword in combination with the search terms that describe your area of interest.

Each type of source (format) serves a different purpose and meets different information needs. Which formats will suit your needs best?  

  • If you're not sure which format will be best, sometimes using primary or sources or archives as keywords in combination with the subject of your research will retrieve relevant options.
  • If you're interested in learning more about daily life during the revolution, you might look for personal accounts, diaries, letters, correspondence.
  • If you're interesting in analyzing official records, you might use the terms records, documents, proceedings.

English-language Primary Sources

English-language sources and sources translated to English will be the most beneficial for our purposes.

  • It might be useful to add English or translation as a keyword in your search, but it may not make a difference. It depends on the combination you're trying and the tool you're using. Try your search with and without English to see all your options.
  • English-language sources might include: historical newspapers and personal accounts from English-speaking countries published during the revolution or other primary sources that have been translated to English. Translations are considered primary sources.

Search Tools

Primary sources can be found using a variety of tools including library catalogs (selected primary sources are reproduced in books written by historians), databases, and search engines. I recommend the following tools provided by BGSU Libraries.

Check OhioLINK for additional books throughout the state. Make a request and they will be sent to BGSU (or a location close to you) in 3-5 business days.

Primary Source Search Strategies: Examples

Let's apply the strategies explained in the Advanced Search Strategies document (at the top of the left column). These examples might give you some ideas for developing your own search strategy.

Note: These strategies can be used in library catalogs, databases, and search engines like Google. These examples are not exhaustive.

  • Scenario: You are researching daily life during the French Revolution and you'd like to know what English-language primary sources might be available online.
    • "french revolution" AND (diary OR diaries OR letter* OR correspondence) AND (English OR translate*)
    • france AND revolution AND (record* OR document*) AND (English OR translate*)


  • Scenario: You'd like to find primary sources related to King Louis XVI during the revolution.
    • King Louis XVI AND (documents OR primary OR sources)


  • Scenario: You need primary sources about the role of women (or specific women) in the revolution.
    • women AND "french revolution" AND (diary* OR letter* OR correspondence* OR paper* OR primary OR archive*)
    • women AND france AND revolution AND (diary* OR letter* OR correspondence* OR paper* OR primary OR archive*)
    • "marie antoinette" AND revolution AND sources AND english


  • Scenario: You need primary sources about the Third Estate
    • "third estate" AND France AND revolution AND (document* OR record* OR primary OR sources)