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Library Research Guides

Primary Sources in International Studies

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


Encyclopedias in a row on a shelf.

BostonTx, "Encyclopedia Britannica" March 24, 2005 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Why It's Helpful

Doing some initial background research before you tackle your project in earnest can help you:

  • pin down your topic

  • gain familiarity with context so as to find sources more easily

  • get an idea of what kind of primary sources you will and will not be able to find.

Example: you may have trouble finding reliable data on crime in the 1960s from a nation plagued by dictatorship during that era.

Conducting Background Research

Background research is an important first step in the research process. Arm yourself with general knowledge to more effectively narrow down your topic and find relevant sources!


Here are some tips for making the most of your background research:

  • start with general resources (like encyclopedias and general books on the topic, area, event, or figure you are studying)

  • skim! no need to read every word: you just want an overview

  • take note of things that interest or intrigue you - major figures, places, or events can be keywords for future, narrower searches


Not finding much? Widen your scope and use even more general ideas as search terms.

Finding too much? Narrow your scope: explore some more specific ideas that are of interest to you.

Where to Look

Try looking in:

  • general secondary sources (such as introductory books on the area, subject, event, or person)
  • encyclopedias and other general reference works
  • general databases or ones related to your topic

General Databases

For more on a particular country: