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HIST 301: Historian's Craft (Petty, Spring 2024)

Primary Source Databases

We have a staggering number of primary source databases! Take time exploring them in your field/topic.

Database Tips!

  • 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.

Use the advanced proximity search (Different in every database)

EBSCO

  • Near Operator (N) will return results where words are close together, regardless of order
    • Women N5 colleges = women and colleges within 5 words of each other
  • Within Operator (W) will return results where words are close together, in that order
    • Women W5 colleges = colleges within the last 5 words after women.

ProQuest

  • Near Search, NEAR/# finds terms within # words apart in any order
    • woman NEAR/7 colleges = woman and colleges within seven words apart in any order
  • Within Search, PRE/# or P/#, finds terms within # words apart in that order
    • woman PRE/7 colleges = searches were colleges is listed within 7 searches after woman

Gale

  • Near search N# finds terms within # words apart in any order
    • woman N4 colleges = women and colleges 4 words apart
  • Within search W# finds terms within # words apart in that order
    • woman W4 colleges = results where college is within 4 words after woman.

WorldCat

  • Near (n#) finds both terms, in any order, within # words (only up to 25)
    • women n10 colleges = colleges and women within 10 words in any order
  • Within (w#) finds both terms, in the order typed, within # words (only up to 25)
    • women w10 colleges = colleges no more than 10 words after women

GoogleBook 

  • AROUND(#) in any order, within # words
    • woman AROUND(5) colleges = woman and colleges 5 words apart

British History Online

  • "term1 term2"~#  finds both terms, in any order, within # words
    •   "women colleges"~5 =  woman and colleges 5 words apart
    • NOTE: this is weird. Usually "" around words searches as a phrase, but in this case the "" act as parentheticals. 

Some Database like Chronicling America have a special drop-down feature for proximity searches built into the search commands.