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Bruton High School Virginia History Day (Spring 2024)

Primary Source Databases

We have OVER 500 databases of primary sources materials, not including another ~200 digitized newspaper databases with historic content.

NOTE: Our databases allow you to sort databases by both type and subject


  • Language has changed over the centuries, and it is often difficult to speak like - and think like - our 17th century ancestors. 

    Words like college, race, "Indian," meant different things, and concepts like gender or nationalism didn't even exist. 

    As an example, a search for "gender" in Colonial America only yields 2 results, and only then relating to grammar rules.

  • Most primary source databases will have "thematic" filters to get you started. Before keyword searching, start there. See what curated documents come up. From those documents, see what terminology is being used by contemporaries.   

  • Begin with basic searches and do not be too complicated.  DO NOT USE TOO MANY TERMS AT ONCE

  • Be sure to use period-specific language.

  • Do NOT search a bunch of terms. This will give more, not less, false its.

  • Pick keywords carefully -- remember that words and their meaning change over time
    • Example. If you're interested in depictions of Gender, the word "gender" won't work -- it meant something else. Try masculinity or femininity. Similarly, the Civil War was not called the Civil War, the same way the "Seven Years War" wasn't called that as it was happening.
  • Use the database limiting tools (publication date, place of publication, etc) to limit results. Do this instead of adding more search terms. 
  • Use boolean (and or not) to make the best searches.

Getting Started: Historical Printed Material

Not sure where to start? Try the catalog, hathitrust, googlebook, and internet archive.

Try a basic search for your topic like you would for secondary source. 
Then limit to the time period of interest.