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Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies Resources

Searching for Primary Sources Online

As you search for primary sources using online databases, you may notice that you do not get as many search results as you expect. There are a few reasons this may be the case, and understanding these reasons can help you effectively search for and locate applicable sources.

1. Terminology changes over time, which affects your search results

When you search for sources about an event, person, or organization, you will likely use related search terms, or keywords, in the search engine. Depending on how much context is provided within a database, search results may or may not have much description aside from the text on the primary source itself, so it can be important to use search terms that represent terms that correspond with the time period you are researching.

For instance, if you wanted to find primary sources from 1918 about some aspect of World War I, you would need to use the search term "The Great War" instead of "World War I," since "The Great War" is how people living during the war referred to it.

It's always a good idea to try a couple of searches using different keywords to see what terms are most effective for your topic.

You can use background sources, scholarly sources, or help from your instructor or a librarian if you need assistance determining the most effective keywords to use in your searches.

2. Some primary or secondary sources may not exist in databases or may be very difficult to find

Libraries and archives are not exempt from the norms of dominant culture or existing power structures. They have traditionally collected and described items that reflect what is valued by the dominant culture. Although many librarians and archivists are actively working to increase representation of marginalized communities in collections and to remedy problematic descriptions of archival materials, this work is a long, ongoing process.

It is likely that you will still be able to locate valuable primary sources for any research question, although for some topics, you may need to use a creative approach to finding and locating these sources. Do not lose hope! UH librarians are happy to help you generate a research strategy.

Primary Sources in Databases

You can also find digitized versions of primary sources from many institutions by searching databases publicly available or accessible through UH Libraries. Use the links below to explore these databases.