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ETST 310: Theories and Concepts in Ethnic Studies (Professor Jason M. Perez) [Spring 2021]

Three Steps to Finding Primary Sources on Google

Search Terms

Make a list of search words and phrases related to your search. You will edit and refine this list as you go through your search process and learn more. 

Things to consider:

  • Terms may have changed over time. For example, "The Great War" was used in the time of WWI. 
  • Be prepared to find and use terms (in searching, not in writing) that are outdated or offensive. 
  • Think about non-academic terms that might be used.

Date Range

  • Create a timeline and plot the date ranges by key events. 
  • Add 70 years to account for memoirs, interviews and reflections.

Google Advanced Search

Use domain limiter (.org, .edu, .gov) - but be careful. These sites could still be business or political sites masquerading as information sources.

Additional primary source search terms to try if needed:

  • "special collections"
  • "digital exhibit"
  • "teacher's kit"
  • library
  • museum
  • manuscripts

Or, try these format specific search terms:

  • "archival footage"
  • ephemera
  • ledgers
  • newspapers

source: Robin M. Katz, How to Google for Primary Sources. (Click for additional search terms.)

To evaluate your sources, go as far as you can. Look for:

  • The repository - is it trusted organization or agency?
  • Collections - are there related sources that may be helpful?
  • Metadata - for context and further information
  • The source itself. Can you watch/download/read/see it?

source: Robin M. Katz, Evaluating Primary Sources Online. (Click for more.)

Example Primary Source Search-Catalog

This demonstrates a search with limiting to ebook format. We do have hard copy primary source material as well, but if you are no coming on campus... 

If you do see a print work that you want, request the item and we will get you an ebook copy if one is available. Be sure to allow plenty of time (2 weeks) for processing. The demonstration is using the California Gold Rush, but the process is the same for your topic.

The Web as a Primary Source

Primary Source Databases at CSUSM

Social Media as Primary Source

In many cases, social media can be considered a primary source, but must be evaluated carefully.

What is the source?

  • An original post
  • A repost
  • Comments
  • Hashtag results
  • A profile

Is it a primary source?

  • Whose voice is this?
  • When was it created?

What is the source itself?

  • Is it a clip from original footage? One photo that is part of a larger collection? A soundbite from a video?
  • Can you get to the original source? Do you have permission to use it?

Document it.

  • Get screenshots, links, creator names and any other relevant information.

Evaluate it.

  • Is the source reliable?
  • What bias exists?


Source: Robin M. Katz, Evaluating Primary Sources Online: Social Media