Doing Research in History

Learn about the core resources for history research, and how to find and use them at Williams.

Search Strategies for Finding Primary Sources in Library Catalogs

The following strategies can be used in library catalogs such as:

Search by Title

To search by title, you need to have a known title in mind. See the bibliographies listed in reference sources, and be sure to mine the bibliographies of class readings and other materials you find to identify relevant titles of primary sources. 

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 a governing body or an organization can also be searched as an author

Search by Subject

Usually, 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:

Personal narratives: first person accounts of a particular event or time period

Biography: may be autobiography or biography

Sources: collections of contemporary writings


Pictorial Works

Search by Keywords

Using the Advanced Search screen you can combine your topic with the subdivisions mentioned above. Choose to search in the subject field to make the searches more precise.

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 subject searches 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.