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HIST 3770 Pandemic! Infectious Disease in Global History (Roth): Finding Primary Sources

What Is a Primary Source?

A primary source is original data or evidence that answers your historical questions, as opposed to another scholar’s interpretation of that same data. Typical primary sources are documents produced by witnesses to an event, but what constitutes a primary source really depends on what is being studied: for example, if your topic is examining how the Jim Crow era has been presented to children through history textbooks, then the textbooks themselves would be the primary sources.  A document that functions as a secondary source in one context could serve as a primary source for a different research project.

When defining primary sources, it can be helpful to distinguish the content of a work from its physical format.  An original handwritten letter from the 1800s is obviously a primary source, but if the same letter is reproduced this year in a printed collection of historical documents or an electronic database, it is still a primary source.


Where Should I Look for Primary Sources?

Primary sources can be found in libraries and historical institutions around the world, as well as online.  But the UGA Libraries offer a wealth of primary source material right here at home.

Special Collections Libraries: here you can find primary sources in their original format, such as handwritten manuscripts, papers of government leaders, or rare books.  Use the webpage to get an idea of what resources are in special collections.  Many of them are also listed in GIL-Find.  Manuscript collections sometimes have finding aids, which are like detailed tables of contents to the documents in the collection. Many finding aids are available online.  

Main and Science Libraries:  these libraries contain older books and journals dating from about 1800 forward, as well as more modern reproductions in print and microform.  Remember that a recently published book may contain letters, diaries, and other material that was written long ago and thus may qualify as a primary source.  Instructions for finding primary source books in GIL-Find are included below. 

Map & Government Information Library (MAGIL):  located in the sub-basement of the Main Library, MAGIL is a regional depository for U.S. federal government publications and an official depository for the state of Georgia's government documents.  It also holds smaller collections of other government publications, such British and United Nations documents.  Holdings are in both print and electronic formats.  

GALILEO databases: the UGA Libraries have many specialized databases for primary sources.  Those most relevant to the history of infectious diseases in global hsitory are listed below.

Finding Primary Sources with GIL-Find

Here are two ways to find primary sources using the GILFind catalog.  Each method will find different results, so you should try them both.

First method:  add primary source keywords to your search.

  • Use the advanced search option.

  • In one box enter your topic keyword(s).

  • In the next box, enter one or more of the following primary source keywords: addresses, correspondence, diaries, “early works,” interviews, letters, memoirs, "personal narratives," sources. (the quotation marks mean the words will be searched as a phrase rather than independently)

    • If you use more than one of the primary source keywords, separate them with the term OR (diaries OR letters OR “early works”)

Second method: limit your search by publication date.

  • Search with your topic keyword(s), but don't add any of the primary source keywords.  For this kind of search it’s best to use just one to a few keywords, rather than including a lot of additional related terms. This is because older publications tend to have fewer and more general subject keywords assigned to them.

  • Use the date range filter in the "refine results" menu on the left to limit the results to items written during the time period you’re investigating.

  • All of your results will have been originally published during the time period you specified.

Why are the search results different with these two methods?  The first search will find books with the primary source keywords, no matter when they were published.  This will include reproductions of older works, which are still primary sources even if they were recently published.  The second search will find books published only during the time period you specify, even if they do not have the primary source keywords.

Databases for Primary Sources

Primary source databases focus on different time periods and different types of publications. The databases on this list are all relevant to the study of the global history of infectious diseases, but do take time to read the individual database descriptions to identify the ones best suited to your topic. 

Accessible Archives:  Accessible Archives includes full-text American newspapers, magazines, and from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as county histories and other resources. The material provides eyewitness accounts of historical events, descriptions of daily life, editorials, advertising, and birth and death notices.

Adam Matthew Explorer: this is a collection of over 70 databases produced by the company Adam Matthew. From the landing page you can search all of these databases simultaneously.  Or by clicking "collections," you can use any of these databases individually.  Each database is also listed individually in the Libraries' A-Z list of databases.  Here is a list of the ones most relevant to this class.

  • African-American Communities, 19th-20th centuries
  • Colonial Caribbean, 1624-1870
  • Defining Gender, 1700s-1900s
  • Eighteenth-Century Journals
  • Everyday Life and Women in America, 1800-1920
  • First World War
  • Food and Drink in History 1600-2000
  • Gender:  Identity and Social Change, 1800s - present
  • J Walter Thompson:  Advertising America, late 19th century-1990s
  • Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture, 1850-1980
  • Mass Observation Online, 1930s-1950s
  • Medical Services and Warfare, 1850-1940
  • Medieval Family Life
  • Migration to New Worlds, 19th-20th centuries
  • Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975
  • Popular Medicine in America, 1800-1900
  • Poverty, Philanthropy and Social Conditions in Victorian Britain
  • Race Relations in America, 1943-1970
  • Sex and Sexuality, 20th century
  • Trade Catalogues and the American Home, 1850-1950
  • Travel Writing, Spectacle, and World History, 19th-20th centuries
  • Victorian Popular Culture, 1779-1930

African-American Newspapers, Series 1 & 2, 1827-1998:  provides online access to more than 350 U.S. newspapers chronicling a century and a half of the African American experience. 

African-American Periodicals, 1825-1995:   170 wide-ranging periodicals by and about African Americans. Published in 26 states, the publications include academic and political journals, commercial magazines, institutional newsletters, organizations bulletins, annual reports and other genres. 

African Americans and Jim Crow:  Repression and Protest, 1883-1922:   more than 1,000 fully searchable works by and about African Americans during the Jim Crow years of 1883 through 1922, a pivotal period of disenfranchisement and segregation. 

American Antiquarian Society (AAS) Historical Periodicals Collection:  more than 6500 American periodicals documenting the life of America's people from the Colonial Era through the late 19th century. 

American Periodicals Series (APS) Online (1740-1940):  full-text articles from over 1,100 American magazines and journals published between 1741 and 1940.

America's Historical Newspapers:  full-text collection of American newspapers published from 1690 to 1928.

Ancestry Library Edition:  approximately 4,000 databases including key collections such as U.S. federal census images and indexes from 1790 to 1930; the Map Center containing more than 1,000 historical maps; American Genealogical Biographical Index (over 200 volumes), Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage (over 150 volumes), and WWI Draft Registration Cards.

Black Life in America:  primary sources documenting the African-American experience from the early days of slavery to modern times as recorded in over 19,000 American and global news sources, including over 400 current and historical Black publications.

Black Thought and Culture:   non-fiction writings of major American Black leaders, teachers, artists, politicians, religious leaders, athletes, war veterans, entertainers, and other figures, from the mid-1800s through the early 2000s. 

British Library Newspapers:  full text of over 160 local and regional British newspapers, 1732-1950

Burney Newspapers Collection:  largest single collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century English news media available from the British Library, including more than 1,000 pamphlets, proclamations, newsbooks and newspapers from the period. 

Digital Library of Georgia:  gateway to Georgia's history and culture found in digitized books, manuscripts, photographs, government documents, newspapers, maps, audio, video, and other resources.

Digital Public Library of America:  provides centralized access to primary sources digitized by a large number of libraries, archives, and cultural institutions.

Early American Imprints:  searchable full-text database of books and pamphlets published in America 1639-1819.  This database is divided into segments, but you can choose to search all of them together for more results. Click the "searching" arrow in the upper right corner to display and choose the other segments.

Early English Books Online (EEBO):  full-text images of almost every book, pamphlet, and broadside published in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British North America between 1473 and 1700. 

Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO): full-text database of 138,000 digitized titles and editions published between 1701 and 1800  This collection includes virtually every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom, along with thousands of important works from the Americas.

Hathi Trust Digital Library:  partnership of research institutions and libraries (including UGA) that preserves and provides access to digitized content from library collections. HathiTrust includes content under copyright as well as public domain items that have been digitized by Google, the Internet Archive, Microsoft, and library initiatives.

Historical Newspapers Online: full text of historical American newspapers, including the Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta Daily World, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Humanities & Social Sciences Index Retrospective:  index to articles published 1907-1984.

Making of the Modern World:  full-text access to more than 61,000 historical works of economic and business literature published mostly between 1450 and 1850, with a smaller number of works published after 1850.  Subject areas covered include commerce, finance, history, politics, social conditions, trade and transport and the geographic focus is on Great Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Spain and other countries.

Nichols Newspaper Collection:  newspapers from the 17th and 18th centuries digitized from the collection of John Nichols (1745–1826), a printer and former Master of the Stationers’ Company.  The collection contains over 150,000 pages of printed text from over 300 titles, spanning nearly 100 years of history.

Periodicals Index Online: index to 18th-20th century periodicals in the humanities and social sciences.  Does not contain full text, but the full text can often be located in another database or in print journals held by the library.  This index contains a number of British periodicals as well as American.

Readers' Guide Retrospective, 1890-1982:  index to popular magazines.

Sabin Americana 1500-1926:  full-text books, serials, and other documents about the Americas published between 1500 and the early 20th century.

Times Digital Archive:  full-text facsimile database of more than 200 years of The Times (London), the oldest daily newspaper in continuous publication and one of the most highly regarded primary-source resources for historical research on the late 18th, 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries

U.K. Parliamentary Papers:  database of documents from the British House of Commons and House of Lords, 1600s to the present, including papers, debates, journals, bills, acts, public petitions, command papers, and Hansard (Official Report of debates).

U.S. Congressional Serial Set (1817-1994): contains all the Reports, Documents and Journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives from the 15th Congress (1817) through the 103rd Congress (1994).

Not enough?  Here's a complete list of databases for history. 


Primary Sources in Microform

Microforms are an older information format unfamiliar to many students. It can take extra effort to use them, but they can contain important information unavailable elsewhere. The UGA Libraries have three types of microforms:  microfilm (FILM), microfiche (MCF), and microcards (MCD).  All are located in the basement of the Main Library.  Equipment for reading, emailing, and printing from microforms is also available in the Main Library basement.  Microform resources can be found by searching  GILFind, just like other resources, and some microfilm collections have their own printed guides with more information; these guides are on the MicArea shelves in the basement as well.  There is also a more general catalog of the Libraries' microform collections, also located in the MicArea:
Major Microform Holdings in the University of Georgia Libraries
Z881 .G44

The library has a large collection of microfilmed newspapers from many locations, and especially from Georgia.  Some of these are also available in searchable digital format, but many are not. 

Unified Newspapers Database:  this database lists all the newspapers that the Libraries hold in microform.  You can search it by newspaper title, city or country of publication, and publication year, as well as thematic lists such as 19th-Century Newspapers and World War I Era Newspapers.  This database does not contain the full text of the newspapers themselves, but it provides a call number so that you can locate the microform in the Main Library basement.