Research Assistance

  • As a reminder, your work needs to include at least two primary source documents. Please reference the websites below for help.

    The Herricks library website has access to multiple helpful databases as well. The password to enter the database site is "highlander." I highly recommend the ABC CLIO American History site as well as the two online sites listed below.

    What are Primary Sources?

    Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research.

    Finding Primary Sources on the Web

    Consult major collections of primary sources
    The following reputable sites link to thousands of primary sources.
    Browse a history subject directory
    Subject directories are useful when you are interested in seeing a broad variety of sources on your topic. Some subject directories include annotations and evaluations of sites. Useful subject directories for history include:
    Use a search engine
    Search engines are useful when you are researching a narrow topic or trying to locate a specific document. When searching, use specific terms rather than broad terms. For example search for the “emancipation proclamation” not just “slavery,” search for the “battle of chancellorsville” not “civil war.” Some popular search engines are:
    Get recommendations from your teacher or librarian
    Many libraries compile lists of recommended history sites. Some examples include:
    Check published guides to history web sites
    Check and see if your library has the following books:
    • The European History Highway: A Guide to Internet Resources. Dennis A. Trinkle and Scott A. Merriman, editors. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2002.
    • History and the Internet: A Guide. By Patrick D. Reagan. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
    • Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History. By Kathleen W. Craver. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.
    Finding photographs and other non-text sources
    Going to a major collection of photographs is the best way to find a historic image. Also, use a search engine to try a topic search, such “Eiffel Tower” or “Chingis Khan” or “Van Gogh and wheat fields” to find photos, drawings or reproductions of paintings. Some major collections include:

    Evaluating Primary Source Web Sites

    Before relying on the information provided by a website, examine and understand the purpose of the website. While the purpose might not affect the accuracy of the primary source material it contains, it might indicate that the material has been altered or manipulated in some way to change or influence its meaning. Sometimes sites use primary source material to persuade the reader to a particular point of view, distorting the contents in obvious or subtle ways. Also, sites can use primary source material haphazardly, without appropriately choosing, inspecting, or citing the work.

    In general, look for websites with a non-biased, balanced approach to presenting sources. Websites produced by educational or governmental institution often are more reliable than personal websites, but government sites may be subject to propaganda.

    Who is responsible for the website? Hints from URLs
    Many URLs (Uniform Resource Locator or web site address) include the name and type of organization sponsoring the webpage. The 3-letter domain codes and 2-letter country codes provide hints on the type of organization. Common domain codes are:
    Domain Sample Address
    .edu = educational institution http://docsouth.unc. edu
    .gov = US government site http://memory.loc. gov
    .org = organization or association http://www.theaha. org
    .com = commercial site http://www.historychannel. com
    .museum = museum http://nc.history. museum
    .net = personal or other site http://www.californiahistory. net
    Who is responsible for the website? Check for an Author
    Look for the name of the author or organization responsible for the page. Look for the following information:
    • Credentials — who is the author or organization and what sort of qualifications do they have?
    • Contact address — is an email or some other contact information given?
    • "About" link — is there an “about,” “background,” or “philosophy” link that provides author or organizational information?