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HIST 340 American Indian History Class Guide

What Kind of Primary Sources are you Looking for?

For some disciplines, primary sources are documents, accounts, and publications from a particular time period. Things like:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Letters
  • Advertisements
  • Photos
  • Journals
  • Speeches

For other disciplines, the primary sourcesare original research or materials like:

  • Statistics/data
  • original research/experiments
  • original artwork, poetry or prose

If you're not sure what kind of primary sources you need, check with your professor for clarification.

Historical Primary Sources

Using the Special Collections

Bridgewater College's Special Collections focuses on primary sources pertaining to Brethren history, Shenandoah Valley history, and the Civil War. If you'd like to take a look at some of the Special Collections materials that have been digitized, visit the library's Digital Commons. But, you may be able to find sources covering additional topics. Contact our Special Collections Librarian to see if we have any materials related to your topic.

If you would like to search the Special Collections' online catalog, you can do so in the search box below:


Citation Chasing

One great way to find primary sources is to do what's called citation chasing. If you've found a good secondary source about your topic, it's likely that it cites primary sources somewhere within it. This is mandatory for scholarly articles, but some web sources may include hyperlinks to their sources as well. Explore these sources!

As an example, visit this History Channel page about the Civil Rights movement. If you select "Sources" from the menu, you'll find a large number of primary sources that are relevant to the topic. Some include the Civil Rights Digital Library and the National Archives, two sites recommended below.


Searching/Browsing Online Archival Materials

Below are examples of some freely accessible online digital collections from other libraries. These are recommended sources from your librarians. If you have any questions on how to use them, please feel free to ask.

Recommended Library Databases:

General Sources:

Date/Era-Specific Sources:

Using Historical Primary Sources

Take some time to analyze the primary source that you have in front of you. If you take the time to look at where the source came from and what the source includes, you'll likely find a wealth of information beyond simply reading a document or glancing at an article.

The recommended steps to analyzing a primary document (per the National Archives) are:

  1. Meet the document,
  2. Observe its parts,
  3. Try to make sense of it, and 
  4. Use it as historical evidence.

Try take a closer eye to each primary document that you encounter. These PDFs will help you through the process of analyzing a primary document fully. By the time you complete this exercise, it is likely you will have found at least one (if not five) interesting and exciting thing about the source that you otherwise would not have discovered.