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History: American: Primary Documents

Quick Guide to Finding Primary Documents

Primary Documents in the Library Catalog

Use the Libraries' Advanced Search to find primary sources on your topic in the WMU collection.

Since the terms "primary documents" or "primary sources" are not Library of Congress (LC) subject headings, these are not the best keywords to use.  Instead, use some or all of the following keywords that will help you identify primary documents that we have in our collection. The generic LC subject heading for primary documents is  sources.  Here are some of the most helpful keywords to use:

  • sources
  • diaries
  • letters
  • oral history
  • personal narratives
  • interviews
  • speeches

The trick is to combine one or more of these keywords with whatever topic you are researching.  For example:

  • "cold war"  (HINT:  using the quotation marks will pick up the entire phrase)
  • "oral history"

or the following search:

  • slave*        (HINT: using the asterisk as a wild card will pick up all variations of the root word, e.g., slave, slaves, slavery, etc.)
  • "personal narratives" OR diaries OR letters OR sources

While not every single item that comes up is guaranteed to be a primary document, at least some of them should be.

A Small Sampling of Primary Documents Databases

The following are just a few of the databases you might try to identify primary documents in American History.

HathiTrust Digital Library

The HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that cultural records are preserved.  Some items are full-text online and others are in print form; check our online catalog to see if we own them.

Meet Your Librarian

Maria Perez-Stable's picture
Maria Perez-Stable
Contact:
Dwight B. Waldo Library, Room 1012
Email: maria.perez-stable@wmich.edu
Telephone: 269-387-5322

OFFICE HOURS for Fall 2017:By appointment
Website / Blog Page

Whole Kit and Caboodle

Check out this more detailed guide on primary documents.

Primary Documents in History Guide