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History Subject Guide: Search Tips

Tips for Effective Library Research

  1. Before you start your search, identify your topic and break it down into concepts. It can be quite helpful to use the Search Strategy Process Worksheet. 
  2. Then, think about what kind of information resources you need and select appropriate indexes and databases in which to search for material. This step is crucial to efficient identification of quality sources -- both primary and secondary -- for your research.

Finding Primary Sources in the CU Boulder Libraries

There are many primary sources available in the Libraries, including paper documents such as books, pamphlets, broadsides, and manuscripts from the period under study, as well as electronic, microform, and printed collections of these documents published at a later date.

You can locate most relevant items in the Libraries by searching the library catalog, OneSearch. There are several ways to search OneSearch effectively for primary sources:

  • Do a WORD search on your topic, thinking of synonyms for your search terms. Notice that you can specify language, location (e.g. Reference), material type, year, and search and sort. You will get a mixed bag of results, including both primary and secondary sources.
    • Then add one of the special subject terms that identify primary materials: sources (more general), correspondence, diaries, narratives, pamphlets, speeches, letters, documents, etc.
    • Again doing a WORD search and limiting the dates of publication by year, entering the dates bounding your time period. For this search, leave off any special subject terms identifying primary materials.
  • Another approach is to do an AUTHOR search for books written by key participants (people or organizations) in the events you are investigating.
  • Once you have found a useful item on your topic, take note of the Subject headings listed in the item's full OneSearch record. Click on these links to find related materials.

Not all of the materials located in some library departments have records in OneSearch, so the best policy is to visit them as well.

There is a rich cache of primary source material on microforms in OneSearch. Some examples are:

  • Colonial Discourses
  • Medieval and Early Modern Women
  • Western Americana: Frontier History of the Trans-Mississippi West
  • The First World War: A Documentary Record
  • Slavery and Anti-Slavery Pamphlets
  • China through Western Eyes

Special Collections also makes available primary source material, including manuscripts and printed works of the time, on a wide variety of topics.

There may be pertinent material in the Government Information Library, especially items of a military and political nature. 

The CU Archives holds rich Western Americana collections especially those pertaining to Colorado. The Archives has primary source material on topics ranging from mining to the military to women. Consult with Archivist Dave Hays to discover whether Archives holds sources relevant to your research.