History Day Workshop

Where can I find primary sources?
Special Collections and Archives 

Archives are repositories of records donated by individuals, families, groups, organizations, or other entities. The archivists care for them and make them available for researchers through finding aids, which are collection inventories. The Iowa State University Archives and Special Collections Department is on the 4th floor of the Parks Library. In addition to the collection guides, many of ISUís finding aids are online and available through the library catalog.

Yale University offers an online tutorial about using manuscripts in the Yale Library, but it also includes some valuable information for new users of archives as well:   

To locate a repository near you (or near where your subject was from/took place) try this list of primary sources organized by state:

Library Catalogs/World Cat
Many libraries catalog primary sources and include them in their online public access catalog (OPAC). Make sure to think carefully search terms Ė include possible people or organizations that may have been involved as authors, and remember to search by subject rather than simply keyword.  An easy way to locate primary sources is to search by genre, which means diaries, narratives, memoirs, correspondence, etc. 

In order to make unique resources available in disperse geographic areas many libraries offer copies on microfilm, allowing researchers access to rare historical documents without traveling. Another advantage is that while libraries and archives will not lend out documents, they will interlibrary loan microfilmed versions. Therefore, while you may not be near an archives with documents relating to your topic, you may still be able to gather valuable information. 

National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections
This catalog is a unified resource for primary sources and includes oral history interview, personal/family papers, organizational archives, and many other resources contributed by repositories nationwide.

Periodicals indexes
With such indexes as the Readerís Guide to Periodical Literature and various newspaper indexes such as The New York Times (which dates back to 1851) and The London Times (which dates to 1790), you can look for relevant articles in the time period of your study.

Compilations of primary source material in published form
Historians often gather together the papers of a significant individual and create a published volume of the works, which becomes widely available. Such is the case for Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thaddeus Stevens.

Internet resources are easy to access and can be valuable, although often difficult to locate. The best way to find digitized versions of primary sources is through digital libraries such as the Library of Congressí American Memory Project and The California Digital Library. Sites such as Academic Info provide lists of such resources.

American Memory:
California Digital Library:
Academic Info:

Online resources for the history of science and technology

Defining X Beginning X Locating X Evaluating

Comments: Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Head, Special Collections Department
Copyright © 2001, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.
Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library