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HIST 258: Find Sources: Primary Sources

Search for Sources

Historical research involves the use of primary and secondary sources.

primary source is a first-hand account, report or original data on or about an event. These sources are often created at or near the time of the event, by someone who experienced it. Examples may include:

  • Journals and diaries
  • Interviews/transcripts
  • Artwork (paintings, drawings, photographs, etc.)
  • Speeches
  • Letters and other correspondence
  • Newspapers
  • Data

Research Skills & Tips:

The MC Library has access to different kinds of search tools: 

  • RaptorSearch searches across most of the information that you can access through the MC Library. Find books, e-books, streaming audio and video, and DVDs and CDs, as well as articles and other electronic resources from databases available through the library.
  • Databases are collections of articles, videos, images, or other types of sources. Some databases cover only one research area, like psychology or English. Other databases cover multiple research areas and are called multidisciplinary databases. Some databases are based on source type, like photographs or videos, instead of research area.

Use the tabs in the Search Tools box on this page to find suggested search tools to use for a variety of types of sources. 

MC students, faculty, and staff can access all of our search tools and online resources from on- or off-campus.

Research Skills & Tips:

Unlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. You'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas: the keywords. Keywords are individual words or short phrases that represent the main ideas in your topic, thesis, or research question. 

Example Question: How did the use of tanks and armored vehicles impact the fighting in Normandy during World War II? 

Keywords: tanks, armored vehicles, World War II, Normandy 

After you've identified your main ideas and some keywords to start with, think of additional search terms for each concept. These can be synonyms, related ideas, broader terms, or narrower terms. Since a database will match only what you type, using different terms for similar ideas can help you find more articles. 

Example Search Terms: 

  • tanks, armored vehicles
  • World War II: world war, 1939-1945; second world war
  • Normandy, General Montgomery, D-Day

Click on the research issue you're having below to see tips for addressing it:

I'm Not Finding Enough Sources

I'm Finding Too Many Sources

I'm Finding Irrelevant Sources

None of These Tips Solved My Research Issue

Not Finding Enough Sources

  • Type the word OR between related search terms to get results containing either term. Put the related search terms in parentheses.
    • Example: "world war II" and Normandy and (tanks or armored vehicles)
    • Example: government and regulate and (internet or "social media")
    Diagram shows social media & internet highlighted
  • Use a truncation character (often the asterisk, *, but it can vary by search tool), which is a symbol added to the root of a word to tell the search tool that you want all forms of that word. 
    • Example: elect* will search for elect, election, elector, electoral, electorate, electing, etc.
  • Use a wildcard character (often the hash sign, #, but it can vary by search tool), which is a symbol that replaces any character in a word.
    • Example: wom#n will search for woman or women.

Finding Too Many Sources

  • Type the word AND between the main ideas in your search to get results containing all ideas.
    • Example: "world war II" and Normandy and armored vehicles
    • Example: government and regulate and internet and "free speech"
    Diagram shows overlap between gov't & free speech

Finding Irrelevant Sources

  • Type the word NOT before a search term that you do not want your search results to contain.
    • Example: election not "united states"
    Diagram shows social media & internet highlighted
  • Type quotation marks around a specific phrase to get search results that contain only that exact phrase.
    • Example: "social media"
  • Use the search tool's filters to target search results that will meet your needs. You'll find filters on the search results screen. The exact location and filtering options varies by search tool.
    • Example: use a publication date filter to find sources published in the last five years.
    • Example: use a source type filter to find only articles or only videos.

If the options above did not help you find useful results, you may want to:

  • change your search terms,
  • select a different search tool,
  • make your topic broader or narrower, or
  • get research help from a librarian.

Research Skills & Tips:

Primary sources are frequently historical documents or images, and it is important to evaluate the content as well as the tool or resource you have used to access them. 

Evaluate Your Access to the Primary Source: 

  • If you found a diary entry, quote from a letter, image, or other primary source through a website, can you verify that the primary source has been attributed accurately? (That is, did the person who is supposed to have said or written something actually say that?) 
  • Apply the strategies for evaluating a website to determine whether it seems reliable. For example, is the website you used to access the primary source published by an established museum, archive, or other institution? 

Evaluate the Content of the Primary Source:

  • Do you know about other people, places and events from the same time as the primary source? If so, how does your knowledge help you better understand the content?
  • Who was the intended audience at the time the primary source was created? Was it meant to be public or private? 
  • How might the difference between our modern values and those of the original author or creator influence the way you understand the primary source?
  • What presumptions and preconceptions do you (as a reader) bring to this content? For example, are there parts that you find objectionable, racist, sexist, but an audience of that time period might have found acceptable?

Research Skills & Tips:

Primary Source Search Tools for HIST 258

Search for Historical Newspapers & Newsreels for HIST 258:


Suggested Resources:


Suggested Websites: