American Studies 101

America: The Nation and Its Discontents
Professor: Cassandra Cleghorn
Fall 2020

Primary Source Search Strategies

  • Begin with broad searches and then use filters/limits to narrow results further by topic, date, type of source, etc.
  • In archival and library databases, look for Subjects that describe the topic (e.g., World's Columbian Exposition (1893 : Chicago, Ill.). Subjects group items on the same topic and can lead to more relevant search results.
  • When searching newspapers, think like a news reporter and use the vocabulary of the time (e.g., Negro or Colored). See also Search Strategies for the Chicago World's Fair from the Library of Congress.

Analyzing Primary Sources

Once you have selected some primary sources, analyze and evaluate each item using these questions:

  • Who created the item?
  • Why or for whom was it created?
  • What story does it tell?
  • Why is it important?
  • What questions do you have about it?
  • What perspective or content is absent from it?
  • What narrative is it part of? What happened before it was created, and what happened after?
  • What ethical issues does this item raise?

Also consider questions related to the repository/site that provided access to the primary source:

  • Who preserved the content?
  • For what purpose?
  • What content is included and excluded?

Recommended Free Digital Primary Source Collections

Recommended Subscription Primary Sources Databases

Using the Library Catalog

Searching the Williams Libraries catalog for World's Columbian Exposition (1893 : Chicago, Ill.) will find many primary and secondary sources. Use the date filter to narrow your searches to primary or secondary sources.

  • Enter 1890 to 1895 to find primary sources
  • Enter 2000 to 2020 to find recent secondary sources (some primary sources may come up if the date wasn't coded)

To find additional secondary sources, search article databases for History.