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Library Research Guides

Primary Sources in International Studies

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

Intergovernmental Orgs

Non-Governmental Orgs


Resources from NGOs that operate worldwide:

How to Work Around a Language Barrier

It’s sometimes hard to find primary sources on another country when you don’t speak that country’s language – but it’s not impossible!


Here are some alternative things to look for:

  • documents from other governments (like declassified US government documents)

  • documents from intergovernmental organizations (like the UN)

  • publications or material from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate in the area you are researching

  • documents in translation (translated letters, translated press releases, documentaries with subtitles...)

  • relevant visual material (photographs, posters, drawings…)

  • applicable perspectives from contemporaneous English language sources (American newspapers, colonial documents, diplomatic correspondence, missionary diaries…) – but remember to consider the potential biases inherent to these sources

Provide Balance

All sources carry bias, and it is important to recognize your primary source’s biases, as they may not be apparent at first glance. Primary sources in English on a foreign country often offer a very different, and distanced, perspective from primary sources that come directly from the country in question.

Example: British colonial documents from 19th century India provide an inherently biased story that does not take into account the perspective of the colonized Indians.


Do thorough research using secondary sources to balance and acknowledge a biased perspective.

Example: Propaganda Art

"毛主席是我们心中最红最红的红太阳" (translated: "Chairman Mao is the Reddest Sun in Our Hearts"). U-M Library Digital Collections. Chinese Papercuts.

Click to enlarge.

Example: Photograph

Photograph of a Turkish shoe store in 2002.

U-M Library Digital Collections. Turkish Life in Pictures.

Click to enlarge.

US Govt Docs