History & Historiography   Tags: historiography, history, hst, hst 300, primary sources  

An introduction to researching history and historiography at PSU.
Last Updated: Oct 28, 2014 URL: http://guides.library.pdx.edu/history Print Guide RSS Updates

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Starting Your Research

Elisabeth Jacobsen on board the 'Parma'
Apprentice Elisabeth Jacobsen on board the 'Parma' in 1933. Photo from the UK National Maritime Museum via Flickr Commons.

This guide provides an overview of PSU Library's most important resources for researching history and historiography. You may also want to consult other, more focused research guides for history. If you have questions, please ask a librarian for help.

To get started on your research, I recommend following these steps:

1. Learn more about your topic by using the encylopedias mentioned in Background Sources.

2. When you start to narrow down your topic, search for primary sources. Try not to get too invested in a topic until you make sure there are enough primary sources available.

3. Gather secondary sources from journals and books to write your paper.

 

 The images scattered throughout this guide are from online, digital archives, with credits in the captions.

 

What is a primary source?

Electoral Vote Tally for the 1860 Presidential Election, 1861 (page 1 of 3)
Electoral Vote Tally for the 1860 Presidential Election, 1861 (page 1 of 3) by The U.S. National Archives, via Flickr

Primary sources enable the historical researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. A primary source reflects the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Here are some examples of primary sources:

  • Items that describe events where the author is a participant or observer, such as diaries, letters, memos, journals, speeches, and interviews. Example: Diary of Charles Rumley from St. Louis to Portland, 1862
  • Photographs, audio and video recordings, and other electronic records that record an event. Example: Oregon Politics Radio Disc Collection [sound recording], 1938-1958
  • Records collected by government agencies such as birth and death records, marriage records, voting tallies, land deeds, and census data. Example: 15th census, population, 1930. Oregon
  • Records created by organizations or agencies, such as reports, minutes of meetings, and bylaws. Example: The dawn of British trade to the East Indies as recorded in the Court Minutes of the East India Company, 1599-1603
  • Memoirs and autobiographies. Example: Autobiography of Samuel L. Campbell, 1824-1902 : frontiersman and Oregon pioneer : together with his summary of the Whitman Massacre.
  • Material published at the time of an event, such as books, newspapers and magazine and journal articles. These are distinguished from secondary sources because they are contemporary. Example: Jones, W. F. D. "An Oregonian Poet Hermit." Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, V. 25, issue 148, April 1895, pp. 75-378.
  • Data collected by researchers, such as field notes, results of experiments, and measurements. Example: Climatological data. Oregon.

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