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American Studies

Getting Started

Content Warning: Digitized primary sources often contain harmful language when referencing minoritized groups of people, and the search tools almost always require that researchers use the terminology of the original authors in order to bring back relevant search results. This can make the research process quite painful. Please feel free to reach out to me or your professor for assistance navigating this research process.

Finding primary sources is often very different from finding more familiar books and articles.

  1. Keep in mind that you usually cannot search for a primary source "about" a topic. Instead you'll find primary sources by searching for people, places, or things associated with the topic.
  2. Usually you will have to locate a collection that is likely to contain useful sources and then browse that collection item by item.
  3. One of the best ways to find primary sources is to read secondary literature on your topic and make note of the types of sources those scholars use, specific sources that seem particularly rich, and where those sources or types of sources are gathered. Follow those footnotes!!

Major Primary Source Collections


For resources from Carleton and St. Olaf

Advanced Search | Help


Books and more from other libraries.

Request books you find on WorldCat using
the "Request Via Illiad" links

Search Tip for Primary Sources

Some search terms are more likely to help you discover primary sources within Catalyst (or WorldCat). For example, here are some SUBJECT terms that work well in these searches:
correspondence, diaries, interviews, pamphlets, periodicals, personal narratives, and sources.

  • To find sources attributed to a particular person, organization, or group, do an AUTHOR search for that name.
  • Combine terms for the type of primary source you want (e.g. speeches, letters, personal narratives, etc) and the broad topic you're studying. For example Speeches AND "Indians of North America" yields several speeches given by and about American Indians.

Digitized Primary Source Collections

Digital Collections on the Web
Often, searching for the type of source may be more fruitful than searching for your topic. Remember that you're searching for an entire collection rather than for individual primary sources.
Example Search:
postcards ("digital library" OR "digital collection")

Specialized Primary Source Types