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Women & Gender History: United States Library Guide

For research in women's and gender history in the United States

More Primary Sources

For more suggestions on how to locate and use primary sources for U.S. history, visit the History of the United States & Canada: Primary Sources guide. Click on the Women & Gender menu tab for a list of collections that focus specifically on women, or search for the roles and perceptions of women among documents in collections organized around other historical themes.

On the Shelves, In the Catalog

In addition to print archives and digitized collections, primary sources can also be found in book form, published as collected documents or as appendices in a secondary source.  When searching the catalog for books, keep an eye out for published primary sources in the stacks.

In combination with a subject term or keyword on your topic, the following search terms can help you focus in on primary sources in the catalog:

"Personal narratives" - used to designate memoirs or autobiographical accounts of a war or event.

"Diaries" - a less commonly used catalog term, but still valuable.

"Correspondence" - used to describe personal letters or the collected correspondence of a class of persons (e.g. soldiers).

"Interviews" - often used to describe oral histories in print, audio, and video formats.

"Sources" or "Archives" - describes collected documents of all kinds.

You can also search for an important historical figure as AUTHOR in the catalog. This will retrieve any published works or collections of papers written by that person. 

Historical Newspapers

Search the Library Catalog to locate individual newspaper titles in print, microform, and electronic formats.  Enter the title and select "Journal Title" for efficient searching.

Interpreting Primary Sources

Every good research paper in history includes primary and secondary sources.  A thorough review of the existing research, the secondary sources, establishes what we know about a subject, existing interpretations, and what questions still need to be answered. 

Primary sources are the evidence used to answer those questions.  When using primary sources, consider the following to evaluate and interpret its content:

How reliable is the author's account?  Was the author an eye-witness to the events described? Was the document written immediately, or did some time intervene between the event and documentation?  Was the author in a position to fully understand her subject (e.g. European travel writers describing foreign customs)?

What was the author's purpose? Was the document intended to persuade or convince the reader?  Was the intent to deliver an impartial recounting of events? Was the document intended only for internal record keeping, as in a business or administrative office?

Who was the author's intended audience?  Was the document written for posterity, to present a specific view of the past (e.g. autobiography)? Was the document written for public consumption at the time it was written (e.g. newspapers)?  Was the document private, and never intended for the public (e.g. personal correspondence, diaries)?  How might the intended audiences influence the author's account?

What is the context of the document? Does the language used have the same meaning now that it did in the past? How or why was the document created? How does the document relate to other contemporary records?

Can your corroborate the source with other evidence?  Do other primary sources support your interpretation of the document in question? Can you justify why the document in question doesn't conform to similar contemporary sources?

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