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HIST 3115 Discovering Lewis and Clark (Fenn): Primary Sources

Finding Primary Sources in OneSearch

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 search bar, 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.

Find Primary Source Databases

The Libraries provide access to several digital primary source databases. Once you identify primary source databases from the History Research guide, you can use to search tips from the previous page to find materials. There is a rich selection of databases to choose from to find items relevant to early U.S. history.

Finding Primary Sources on Microform

The Libraries owns a rich cache of primary sources on microforms that cover all areas of the world. There are different ways you can find out what kinds of sources a microform collection contains, including online guides linked in the Chinook record, printed guides, and tables of contents and indexes that are included on the microforms themselves. Once you have located on which reels items of interest are located, you can order/locate those reels for viewing.


Microform scanners are available in the Research Area on the second floor of Norlin Library. You can make electronic copies of items on microforms and email or save them to a flash drive for free. Microform readers and printers are also available here and in Government Publications.


Some examples of our microform collections are:


Special Library Locations for Primary Sources

The following Libraries' departments contain substantial material for historical research in addition to what you can find in the regular collections. Not all of the materials in these departments have records in Chinook, so the best policy is to visit and use finding aids that may only be available on site.


  • Government Information offers a rich array of primary sources, particularly, but not limited to, those relating to politics, government, and the military. 
  • Special Collections will also have items of interest on a wide variety of topics. Visit their web page and reading room to discover what they have available.


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Frederick Carey
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