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Finding Historical Primary Sources: By Topic, Author, Title, Date

A guide to finding primary sources in history at the UC Berkeley Libraries

Find Primary Sources by Topic


Search UC Library Search by keywords or official subject headings.  To find official subject headings:

  • Search by keywords, display the long form of the record for an appropriate item, and then click on one of the subject headings that are listed
  • Ask at a library reference desk for assistance
  • Look for the five red volumes of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, located near most library reference desks

You may also pair an appropriate subject heading with additional subject terms that identify materials as primary sources. Some of these terms are:

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • early works to 1800
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • periodicals
  • personal narratives
  • sources

Note: these subject terms will not retrieve all possible primary sources but they are a good way to start.


  • vietnamese conflict 1961-1975 personal narratives
  • student movements japan history sources
  • france revolution correspondence

Search article databases by keywords, or official subject terms/descriptors.

Find Primary Sources by Author/Organization

Name of an individual

  • Search article databases for this name by author (last name, first name)
  • Search article databases for this name by subject.

Name of an organization

Finding Primary Sources by Title

Specific title

  • Title of a journal/magazine/newpaper: search UC Library Search by title and limit by Resource Type
  • Title of an article: search UC Library Search by the name of the journal/ magazine/ newspaper in which the article appeared (as above)
  • If you do not know the name of the journal/magazine/newspaper in which the article appeared, search for the title, subject, or author of the article in an article databases. Find the complete citation (title of journal, date, volume, etc.); then search UC Library Search for the title of the journal
  • Some journals/magazines/newspapers are available online (scroll down to sections for articles, American or European).

Finding Primary Sources by Date

  • Search the UC Library Search using any of the techniques listed above; limit by date of publication to find materials published during the time period you are writing about. You may be able to sort your search results by date (see Help screens of each library catalog for details.)
  • Search the article databases using any of the techniques listed above; limit by date of publication to find materials published during the time period you are writing about