There is no simple, foolproof way to find primary sources for historical research; rather, locating such sources tends to be an intuitive and creative process involving guesswork and blind alleys. Potentially useful materials can be found in journals, memoirs, letters, magazines, newspapers, and official documents published during the period in which you are interested. Try searching the computerized library catalog, adding the search term "sources" or "documents" to your keyword, or using the names of prominent figures as authors. Primary documents may be available in your library through the following sources.LIBRARY
EuroDocs: Primary Historical Documents from Western Europe.
A wealth of primary source material from 22 countries (plus Vatican City). Sites are sorted by country and listed chronologically. Available sources include letters, facsimiles of paintings and photographs, journals, and official documents. Paul Halsall/Fordham University Historical Studies Sites.
The launching pad for links to a number of sites in primary collections, such as the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook holds a large collection of primary texts from the Middle Ages, conveniently divided into three different tables of content: "Selected Texts," "Full Texts," and "Saints' Lives." In addition to many primary documents, users can find maps and images, information on films with medieval themes, and links to other medieval sites. Also here is a link to the Modern History Sourcebook. Documents begin in the European Reformation (Luther and Calvin) and end in the present (computers, the Internet, and the Environment).
INTERNET | LIBRARY
BOOKS AND MICROFILM SERIES American Culture Series. 643 reels. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1941-74.
A microfilm series that reproduces American books and pamphlets published between 1493 and 1875. It has a useful subject index. American Women's Diaries.
55 reels. New Canaan, Conn.: Readex, 1980-.
A microfilm collection that reproduces the diaries of women who lived and traveled in the western, southern, and eastern U.S. Early English Books, 1475-1640. 2,034 reels. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1938-67. Early English Books, 1641-1700. 2,396 reels. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1961-.
A vast collection of books, from the earliest books printed in England to the Restoration, with indexes, on microfilm. Early English Text Society Series. 287 vols. London: Early English Text Society, 1864-.
A long-running series that republishes Medieval and Renaissance texts in scholarly editions. March of America Facsimile Series. 103 vols. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1966.
A reprint series of original editions of early English accounts of travel to the New World.
INDEXES TO THE POPULAR PRESSAmerican Periodicals Series, 1741-1900. 2,770 reels. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1946-79.
A large microfilm collection of periodicals from colonial times through the nineteenth century. An index identifies periodicals focused on particular topics. New York Times Index. New York: New York Times, 1851-.
A valuable source for finding newspaper coverage on a particular historical topic. Topics tend to be grouped under broad subjects, with individual stories listed chronologically. The index gives the date, section, page, and column of each story, which can then be found on microfilm. Even without reading the stories themselves, you can get detailed chronologies of events from this index. Official Index to the Times. London: Times Publishing, 1785-.
Indexes stories published in the prominent London newspaper; good for British news and a British view of world events. Poole's Index to Periodical Literature, 1802-1881. 6 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892. With supplement covering 1882-1906.
Indexes nineteenth-century periodicals. Though not as thorough as later indexes, it is still a useful guide. Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. New York: Wilson, 1900-.
Indexes selected popular magazines by author and subject; a good source for popular reactions to events of the twentieth century.
PUBLIC DOCUMENT COLLECTIONSForeign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1861-.
Provides collected correspondence, memoranda, treaties, presidential messages, and other documents relating to U.S. foreign policy, arranged chronologically and by region. This is a rich repository of primary material on foreign relations and international issues. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, 1957-.
A repository of proclamations, speeches, statements, and other presidential papers from Hoover's administration (1929) to the present. Serial Set. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1789-1969.
A huge collection of congressional documents, available in many libraries on microfiche with a printed subject index.
ORAL HISTORIES AND LOCAL HISTORY COLLECTIONS
You may want to undertake an oral history project or want to track down oral histories that others have compiled. You can consult the Oral History Index (Westport, Conn.: Meckler, 1990) or the Directory of Oral History Collections (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1988). Or you can simply search your library's catalog using the term "oral history" or adding the term "oral history" to your keyword. Also consider getting primary sources from a county or state historical society's collections, or even from the archives of your own college or university. You may find yourself working with material no one else has analyzed before.