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History: Primary Sources

Library Research Plan for History

Tips for finding Primary Sources

A primary source is the source closest to the original event, research or experience (definition taken from the WriteSite, University of Sydney).

  • Find a good, scholarly secondary source on the topic in the catalogue. Any good author will have consulted the primary sources on that subject and will list them in the footnotes and bibliography. Check these references in the catalogue to see if they are held in the Library.


  • Use a good, scholarly reference book. These have articles providing a broad overview of a topic, which will refer to the major primary and secondary sources.


  • Depending on the subject matter, there may have something in our full text collections: EEBO, ECCO, Defining Gender, Empire Online, Digital Evans, Making of Modern Law. These are all listed in the Primary Sources of this guide.


  • Include the word “sources” in a catalogue keyword search. Cataloguers add the word "sources" to the subject heading when they identify a work as a primary sources. The results will include “sources” in the title and in the subject headings, eg Witchcraft -- History -- Sources. Also try words like: diaries, personal narrative, interview, letters, correspondence, etc.


  • Use the Advanced search mode in the catalogue to search by a date range. This will identify some works published during that time period.



  • Browse the shelves at the relevant call number, especially in Fisher. Be aware that a lot of material is in Storage and can only be located and requested via the online catalogue, so use the catalogue to do a 'virtual browse'.


  • Contact Rena if you need help.

Off-campus access

All currently enrolled students and staff are entitled to off-campus access to the Library's licensed electronic resources.  Your student or staff unikey will allow you to use these resources when you are not on a USYD campus.