Skip to Main Content

Using and Accessing Primary Sources

Conducting historical research

Historical research can be complicated. Going back in time requires changing your perspective and search strategies. There are many ways to approach a topic, and you will sometimes find more questions than answers. That’s OK! Be ready to revise your questions, working hypothesis, and sources as you go along.

  • You may want to start with a literature search
    • Get a base for further research
      • Just like searching for current resources, a lot of historical research can still be found in published sources and, thus, through database searching you may already be familiar with.
      • The results of these searches can help direct you toward potential primary sources to look for in other places.
    • Chase footnotes
      • If you start with an article on your topic of interest, you can check the sources for their research and trace those sources back, and the sources from those sources, and so on, until you've found the earlier roots of present-day thought.
    • What about Google? Why not!
      • General internet searching and even Wikipedia may not provide you with citable information, but they can often help point you towards verifiable sources for further study.
  • Information gathered in the initial stage can help hone your further research.

What is an archive?

Watch the short video below to learn some general information about archives.