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ENG 105 (Boehm): Search Strategies

This guide includes strategies and potential resources to help you conduct research for the Writing History assignment.

Getting Started

Conducting primary research can be an extremely rewarding and, at the same time, frustrating process. You can feel the excitement of uncovering a new piece of knowledge or information, but you may also experience challenges with the limits of time, space, and availability. While many archives and libraries, as well as companies such as Google, have now digitized a large number of original historical documents, there is still a wealth of material that remains accessible solely in physical archives across the world. Keep in mind that, as you work on your project, you will need to consider what is and is not immediately available, and then shape your project accordingly.

For your project in English 105, you will be finding mostly first-person accounts related to a single event, place, or group of people. These accounts may take the form of oral histories (i.e. recorded interviews or transcripts of such interviews), or they may be contained in letters, diaries, personal papers, or other historical texts. This guide is designed to help you locate these kinds of primary sources.

For more information about primary sources in general, please see our Primary Sources guide. For help with any aspect of your research, please Ask a Librarian!

Finding First-Person Historical Narratives in the Library Catalog

You can use the library catalog, WorldCat Local, to search for first-person historical accounts, letters, diaries, and other texts that have been reprinted in book collections or that are simply available in their original format. The best strategy to use when searching for these sources is to combine your topic keywords with words such as oral history, personal narratives, letters, correspondence, diaries, or sources. There are also series of books such as "Papers of," which are typically reprints of the selected papers of famous people.

For example, if I'm interested in finding first-person accounts of the Vietnam War, I could start by searching WorldCat local with the words "Vietnam" and "personal narratives." This search returns books such as Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War, and Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War. These books could be excellent starting points for my project.

You might also try looking at the bibliographies or reference lists of secondary sources. Authors of secondary sources usually cite primary source material, some of which might be available to you. Ask a librarian for assistance with tracking down cited primary source materials from secondary sources.

Quick Tutorial: Finding First-Person Narratives in the Library Catalog

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