Studying modern history means that you my be using primary sources that are still under copyright law and thus not available full text online for free. This also means that there may be restrictions placed on depositories regarding digitalization. When choosing primary sources, please keep this in mind and plan accordingly.
Search Strategies for Primary Sources
Primary source research requires a slightly different approach to searching. Here are a few tips/strategies:
Start by doing some background reading or "pre-research": The more you know about key events, people, laws, and especially common terminology used during the time period you are researching the more successful your research will be. See the "Getting to Know Your Topic" page in this guide for help.
Limit to specific time periods: When searching for primary sources online always remember to use date ranges (usually on the advanced search page) to focus your search.
Depending on the time period, remember that it took time for news to get reported or to spread to other parts of the country. It often helps to include a few weeks after an event to ensure you get results.
Start with broader search times but limit to a narrow time period. For example: if searching for articles about the Massacre at Wounded Knee, search for: "wounded knee" limit to the date range of 12/29/1890-1/12/1891 (the word massacre may not have been used immediately after the event, but the location)
Use primary source keywords to find primary sources: Use search terms that reflect the types of primary sources you’re looking for, such as: diaries, pamphlets, correspondence, speeches, manuscripts, personal narratives, interviews, firsthand, eyewitness, sources, etc.
For example: slave AND diary | suffrage AND pamphlets | united states and race relations AND sources
Evaluating a Primary Source
The Library of Congress has a great tool for helping you evaluate potential primary sources:
This database presents an archive of publications focused on U.S. Hispanic history, literature and culture from colonial times until 1960. Series 2 focuses on Hispanic American civil rights, religion and women’s rights from the 18th through the 20th century. Content is written, indexed and searchable in Spanish and English.
An archive collecting all forms of Hiphop material culture including recordings, videos, web sites, films, original papers, publications, conference proceedings, etc., to form a record of Hiphop activity in the United States and worldwide.
ProQuest Congressional is a comprehensive database that searches across current and historical documents of the United States Congress, many of which are included in full text. It includes the U.S. Serial Set (the published working papers of Congress), Congressional Hearings, the Congressional Record (through 1997) and hundreds of thousands of House and Senate reports, State of the Union messages, Congressional journals, hearings, high-resolution maps, and more.
Access has recently been expanded to include ProQuest Congressional Hearings Digital Collection Historical Archive Parts B and C (1980-2010), ProQuest Congressional Record Permanent Digital Collection, and ProQuest U.S. Serial Set 2 Parts G, H, and I.
Primary sources documenting the history of student organizing in the United States, including hundreds of items contributed by BGSU, in formats such as leaflets, fliers, newsletters, campaign materials, protest literature, clippings, periodicals, bulletins, letters, press releases, as well as meeting, demonstration, conference, and event documentation.
Topics include: Anti-apartheid divestiture, student involvement in the civil rights movement, Indians of All Tribes’ occupation of Alcatraz, Take-Back-the-Night anti-sexual assault activism, Vietnam War opposition and demilitarization activism, Women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and more.
A complete, searchable archive of American Vogue, from the first issue in 1892 to the current month. Includes every article, cover, photo shoot, illustration and advertisement, with rich indexing enabling users to find images by designer and brand names.
This platform covers Bowling Green area newspapers from 1867 to 1958 with complete coverage of the Bradner Advocate and the Risingsun Unique Weekly. To view the complete newspaper collection on microfilm, visit the Local History Collection at the Wood County District Public Library in person.
Broken down into the following categories: State Archives and Collaboratives, Virtual Collections, Documentary Editions and Digitized Collections, Digital Editions available from University of Virginia Press /Rotunda.