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Research Guides

Books as Primary Sources

 Sample book covers

The UW Libraries has a strong collection of published primary sources dealing with history. Primary sources for other regions and time periods are also available (though often in the original language). These include books written during the period for your topic (i.e., during the Russian Revolution), books written by participants, published collections of correspondence and other personal writings, memoirs and reprints of collections of primary source material. Most books are printed but some are microfilmed.

Finding Primary Sources Using UW Libraries Search

To find these primary sources use the Advance search option on UW Libraries Search

By AUTHOR-- search for books written by key participants and organizations.

catalog search showing author search for hirabayashi gordon


By SPECIAL SUBJECT HEADINGS -- do a keywords search for your topic/event and in the second box change the label from "Title" to "Identifier, Subject" and use one of these special subject headings that designate primary sources: personal narratives, correspondence, diaries, interviews, sources. Some terms may work better than others depending on your topic. 

catalog search screen example showing box 1: japanese americans relocation and box 2: interviews


By DATE -- narrow your search by year of publication

catalog search example showing box 1: japanese americans relocation and the publication year limit

Using HathiTrust to Find Pre-1924 Books

If you are looking for books published before 1924, check HathiTrust. More than million books (also some magazines and Parliamentary Papers) free of copyright are available full-text and can be downloaded as pdfs. Plus you can search through the entire text to find the information you seek. Note: these digitized items include books published in Britain, the United States and other countries. 

The Advanced Catalog Search provides options to search for specific titles, authors and keywords and to limit your search by fulltext availability (full view only) and publication date.

Current books and books still in copyright are not available full-text but you can usually use the search feature to pinpoint the pages you might need. Then search the UW Libraries to find a copy of the printed book.

HathiTrust search example: all fields=sanitation and london; year of publication between 1850 and 1880