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History How To: Primary Sources

A guide to finding and using primary sources at McPherson Library.

A note on time

When searching a book catalogue, an article index or the web, you may be tempted to add some words that indicate a period of time. For example, "Second World War".  There are many ways to express most time periods, so think of all the synonyms before you begin your search, and use them throughout your search! 

You will also need to consider how the time was viewed by those who lived in it - for example, during the Second World War, it was referred to in Newspapers and other sources as The European War or The Pacific War.   And the term 'First World War' doesn't show up until after the Second World War.   

Search the library catalogue

A note on language

When searching for historical sources, or within them, you need to consider the context of those documents. For example, if you're looking for works about women in the military in the 1940s, you may have to use the world 'girls'.  think about how your subjects were percieved in their own time, and plan your keywords accordingly.  

This is where some background research really pays off! Consult an encyclopedia to get lots of background information on your topic before beginning your primary source searches. 

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