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History 416: Many lives of Tokyo: Primary Sources Search Strategies

The Many Lives of Tokyo
Professor: Eiko Maruko Siniawer
Fall 2021

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts by participants of a particular event or materials produced at the same historical time period. 
Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Memoirs, speeches, writings, correspondence
  • Papers of a political party, agency, or association
  • Official documents such as congressional hearings and reports
  • Magazine and newspaper articles
  • Art, films, literature, and music
  • Artifacts, such as buildings and monuments

Access primary sources

  • Published (re-printed) sources not held at Williams can be requested through interlibrary loan
  • For sources only available in their primary format  at libraries/museums/research centers, your options are to 
    • request scans through interlibrary loan to request a scan 
    • go directly to the library/museum/research center to request a scan of a document 
    • travel to the library/museum/ research center where the item is located 

Strategies for identifying primary sources

  1. Secondary sources  (research materials) are the best gateway to primary sources
    Use the footnotes, bibliographies for references and appendices for reproductions of documents
    To find scholarship on your topic, use the library's databases, the Williams library catalog and Worldcat.
  2. Use library catalogs to identify primary sources

    Usually, library catalog records have at least one subject heading describing the general topic of the book, video, or other material. Subject headings can be subdivided to indicate further topical breakdown, geographical location, time period, or the form of the composition. Some of the form subdivisions that indicate the items is a primary source include:

    Sources: collections of contemporary writings
    Tokyo (Japan)-- History -- Sources
    Japan -- History -- Sources
    Japan -- History -- Tokugawa period, 1600-1868 -- Sources
    Japan -- History -- 19th century -- Sources

    Description and Travel: Travelers' accounts
    Japan -- Description and Travel
    Japan -- Description and Travel -- Early works to 1800

    Art, Literature
    Art, Japanese -- Edo period, 1600-1868 
    Japanese literature -- Translations into English
    Japanese literature -- Edo period, 1600-1868 -- Translations into English

    Instead of using Subject Headings, you can also search for the words readers or documentary history in the Title field:  Japan readers  

  3. Consult reference sources
    Subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, thematic bibliographies include primary sources in their reference lists 
  4. Search primary sources databases
    Historical newspapers, images, films, oral histories.  List of primary sources databases

Go beyond Williams

  • Consult libraries, museums and research centers specializing in Japan.
    Check with web site for information about their digitized  collections. Reach out to librarians and archivists! 
  • Search Google for open digitized collections:  
    • Enter keywords for your topic, event, or person
    • Add search terms such as "archives," "digital," or "digitized"
    • Also try search terms related to the type of primary source you want such as "oral history,"  "transcript," "speech," etc.