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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 200D: Music in History

How Do I Find Primary Sources?

For more information on primary sources, consult our guide to Library Research for History Students.

There are many ways to find digitized primary sources, both published and unpublished, starting with our Digital Collections guide.

You can find published primary sources by using library catalogs, research guides, and published bibliographies. You can also look at secondary literature on your topic to ascertain what sources other scholars have used in their research.

To find published primary sources in library catalogs, try these strategies:

-Search by date of publication (to find sources that were published during the time period you're researching --you can also use this strategy in full-text digital collections such as Proquest Historical Newspapers)

-Use the library catalog's advanced search option, and include one or more of these Library of Congress subject headings in your search:

  • correspondence

  • sources

  • diaries

  • personal narratives

  • interviews

  • speeches

  • documents

  • archives

  • early works to 1800

You can find unpublished primary sources held by archives and museums using ArchiveGrid (a database of information about archival collections), or using the "archival material" format in WorldCat. Microfilm facsimiles of primary source materials are also included in WorldCat and other library catalogs. 


If you're having trouble finding primary sources for a topic you've already started researching, go back to your secondary literature: what sources have other scholars consulted?  These should be cited in the footnotes or endnotes and/or described in an essay in the back of the book.

If you haven't decided on your topic yet, browsing the primary source collections described in the Digital Collections guide can be a good way to find inspiration. Find a source that interests you, whether it's something you're surprised by, something that doesn't make sense, or just something you'd like to know more about.

You can also consult the staff of the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library --we are always happy to help!

Types of Sources and How to Find Them: Primary Sources

Learn More About Primary Sources

Primary Source Village. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois, 2006.

Milligram, John D. " The Treatment of an Historical Source." History and Theory 18.2 (1979): 177-196.

Langlois, Charles Victor, and Charles Seignobos. "The Search for Documents." Introduction to the Study of History. Translated by George Godfrey Berry. New York: Henry Holt, 1932.

Joynt, Carey B., and Nicholas Rescher. "Evidence in History and the Law." Journal of Philosophy 56.13 (1959): 561-577.

Hurst, B.C. " They Myth of Historical Evidence." History and Theory 20.3 (1981): 278-290.

Williams, Robert C. "Sources and Evidence." The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2003.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. "From Problems to Sources." The Craft of Research. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.