Primary Resources

Primary Sources in Gender and Women’s Studies

There are many databases of historical newspapers and magazines that serve as primary sources to historical events and times. Browse those listed in the Browse Databases By Subject/Type¬†under the category History – General/Worldwide, or, if you are only interested in North American history, then use the sub-category History – U.S./Canada. Examples of these databases include: American Periodicals Series Online (digitized pages from magazines from the Colonial Period through 1900), 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, America’s Historical Newspapers, and NewspaperARCHIVE.com.

These sources also include material relevant to North American women’s history:

 Hints on Searching Primary Sources

  • Use the terminology of the era you are researching, no matter how offensive those terms may be today. For example: for North American Indians, use natives, savages, aborigines (more common in Canada), squaws, etc. as well as Indians. Try lots of synonyms.
  • Spelling may not not have been standardized in the era you are studying, although some digital editions may “correct” for spelling variants in the search protocols. One problem in particular in Colonial spellings is the use of the long S character that looks like and is interpreted as an F to optical character recognition software. Search for words with an S in them using a wildcard or an F. For example, in a database that uses the “?” as a wildcard symbol, search for Boston as Bo?ton or Bofton. Use the Help files within databases for more hints on spelling.
  • Try words, including euphemisms that are likely to occur in the telling of a narrative. For example, for pregnancy and childbirth experiences, try “with child,” birthing, “travail,” “confinement,” “lying in,” “brought to bed,” “took to bed,” etc., as well as childbirth.
  • In looking for two or more concepts (ex: “indentured servants” AND marriage), see if the database has a way to specify that the concepts should be near each other in the document or on the page. Use the help file and look for “proximity operators.” This is helpful when searching through the text of any fulltext database, not just those containing primary sources. You may need to be in an advanced search screen to find proximity searching. In databases with proximity operators, you can usually specify within how many words you would like your terms to appear, or within the same paragraph, and sometimes in what order. Proximity is also useful when you are looking for a name and you want to search for the person’s first and last name, but also allow for a middle name or initial. If you have to type in the proximity statement, the format might be something like this for the name Laura Thatcher Ulrich: Laura w/3 Ulrich. Put phrases within quotation marks, too.