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Guide to Online Primary Sources: Need More?

Subject listings of primary sources available online: free web collections as well as UCSD subscription-based resources.

Using the Library Catalog

The UCSD Library provides access to many more primary sources, both in print and electronically. You can find these by using the library catalog to search for subjects or keywords related to your topic.  It can be tricky to find these, but some tips are presented below.

1) Try combining keywords related to your topic with one of the terms below; each of these is a type of primary source. If one doesn't find anything of interest, try another. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, try combining several into a single search like this one.

Click on each term below to see a sample* search. Notice that you can add d: before a word (or string of words, like in the example above) and it will require that word to be an actual subject heading, rather than a simple keyword. Doing this will help to focus on your topic, but be careful - you may focus too much! If you use the d: and get few or no results, you may want to redo the search without that limit.

*These are only examples: you will need to use your own keywords in combination with the terms below to find relevant items.


2) Once you've identified and located a book of interest, see if the book includes a bibliography. If so, you may find primary source material listed. You can then search the library catalog to see if the library owns those specific titles. (And if we don't, you can request them from another library.)

3) From the catalog's Advanced Search page, enter keywords of interest in the drop down boxes and set the "Location" limit box to "Internet."  This location limit will find only items that are available online.  You can also use the Advanced Search to set other limits, including language and publication date.

Searching the Web

While this guide has collected a great number of primary source collections that are freely available on the Internet, there are many others just waiting for you to find them!

Google allows you to combine terms in various ways to focus your search to highly relevant items. For example, compare the results of these two searches for primary source material related to medieval weaponry:

1) medieval weapons

2) (medieval OR "middle ages") (war OR weapons) ("primary source" OR documents) ( OR

Be creative when entering keywords, and think of possible synonyms or related terms that might retrieve items of interest. For "primary sources", for example, you might also try "historical documents" or one of the catalog terms shown at left.

Google Search Tips:

  • Use quotes " " to search for specific terms, phrases or a name. 
  • Use parentheses ( ) to combine like terms.
  • Use OR (all capitals) to find either word; use AND (all capitals) to require both words.
  • Narrow your search to specific domains. Adding (no spaces) to your keywords will search only educational sites. Other common domains to use are .gov (U.S. government) and .org (organizations).
  • Subtract terms you don't want to have in the results (-). Example: trade -coffee (space after first word, no space between dash and second word).

See also...