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History 165: Primary Sources in Library Catalogs

The Age of McCarthy: American Life in the Shadow of the Cold War
Professor: Jessica Chapman
Fall 2019

Search Strategies

Search by Author

Memoirs, speeches, writings, or correspondence of a person can be found by doing a Browse search by Author using the name (last name first) of the person.

Papers of organizations, government agencies, political parties, and other groups can be found by searching for the organization as an author.

Search by Subject

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 documents


Search by Keywords

Use the Advanced Search to combine keywords/subjects for your topic with the subdivisions mentioned above in the Subject field. Note: "Sources" will also bring up "reference sources" so look carefully at your results

Search by Title

To search by title, you need to have a known title in mind. Be sure to mine the bibliographies of class readings and your secondary sources find to identify relevant titles of primary sources.

Limit by Date

Remember, primary sources were written around the same time as an event or during a particular historical time period. To find contemporary writings, you can do searches in the library catalog and limit to the years in question. A word of caution: this search strategy will not find materials that were reprinted at a later date.

Expand Beyond Williams

Use the above strategies in Williams WorldCat, a database of the holdings of over 10,000 libraries around the world. Be sure to check how many libraries own the item to see how likely it might be to borrow it; if there are only a handful of libraries, it is less likely we can get it. Also note that some libraries are non-circulating collections, so we would not be able to borrow from them.

Search the Library Catalog

Find books, articles, & more

Search Williams WorldCat

Find items at other libraries

Advanced Search

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