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Library Research Guides

Primary Sources in International Studies

Find and use primary sources in research conducted by international studies students.

Put It All Together

Example: When using Nelson Mandela's speeches (above) as a primary source, you can use secondary sources (such as this biography, below) to flesh out and back up your research.

Cite Your Sources

"Reading" Your Sources

Here are some tips for getting the most our of your primary sources:

  • take note of any references to names, places, events, and the like: you can then use these as keywords to find other primary sources or further reading
  • consider the source's perspective and potential biases: keep in mind that a primary source is one perspective, not the only perspective

Think about the Object

When dealing with a primary source that is a physical object, take the source's physical nature into consideration in your analysis.

Consider the object's provenance and journey. Where did it come from? How did it get to the library or archive it's in today? What factors influenced that journey?

Consider also the object's materiality. What size is it? What is the wear on the object? What can its appearance tell you about its purpose?

When possible, it's a good idea to view your primary sources in person. Scans and other digital renditions of objects are useful, but they don't tell the whole story.

Example: scans of book pages do not convey a book's real-life size: your primary source may be larger or smaller than you envisioned it – and size can tell you a lot about how a book was used. A small book may have been carried on the original user's person, while a large book's use may have been more ceremonial than everyday.

Search for Secondary Sources

Look for secondary sources – such as journal articles and scholarly books – to flesh out your point of view and inform your consideration of your primary source.

Once you’ve found a likely contender, you can use its bibliography to look for other secondary sources that may be useful in your research – and then do the same with their bibliographies in turn. This process is called "citation-chaining" because you work backwards from works' citations, forming a chain.

Scholarly Article Databases