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HIST 3761: Childhood and Youth in African History

Approaches to Finding Primary Sources

The "primaryness" of a source emerges in relation to the researcher's engagement with it. The UC Berkeley Libraries define primary sources as "either created during the time period being studied or...created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs)."

(source: Finding Historical Primary Sources: Getting Started, last updated 8/12/18,

When determining primary sources for your research, it's helpful to give yourself a historical context that defines your search. This could be a range of dates. It could also be determined by geographical sites of origin. You might also be interested in a specific type of source. Some examples include:

  • photographs
  • diaries
  • newspaper articles
  • advertisements
  • films
  • web sites
  • sound recordings
  • government documents
  • works of art

Databases and digital repositories can offer a multitude of paths to potential primary source material for your research. In addition, you might want to try searches in the CLIO catalog or articles+ search, limited by date of publication. 

Using CLIO to Find Primary Sources

The CLIO Catalog and Articles searches can be useful tools for finding a range of primary sources. The key here is to define the boundaries (and potential) of your research. This can be done in several ways:

Using Search Terms:

  • Select words and phrases that you might expect to encounter in the kind of source you are looking for, rather than just words and phrases that would be use in a contemporary academic context. 
  • Take advantage of connecting words like AND, OR, NOT as well as the symbol * (an asterisk that can be used to stand in for missing letters, i.e. migra* for migration, migratory, etc)

Using a Publication Date Range:

  • Set a range of years of publication for the sources you're open to finding. It helps to give yourself several years as a "cushion"---sometimes, a source is published years after its creation. 

Limit by Content Type, Genre, and/or Language:

  • This could be a later step in your search, after you have pulled up a list of results. Look out for words like MapsStatistics, and even the vague but promising term Sources!


Primary Source Collections : Various