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Hist Sci 404: History of Disease (Fall 2020) - Guide to Primary Sources : Welcome

Welcome

Welcome to the library course guide for Hist Sci 404: History of Disease! This guide focuses on helping you find (mostly digital) primary sources relevant to your research needs.

The guide includes information about how to find primary source:

  • Books --> medical textbooks, popular health advice books, and pamphlets
  • Articles --> medical journals, popular magazines, and newspapers
  • Government documents --> Congressional debates, public health flyers
  • Archival material --> patient records, unpublished letters & diaries, meeting minutes and other organizational records, photos, videos & posters

Note that often several kinds of sources are contained within the digital collections recommended throughout this guide. While the guide is divided by type of material, during your research you should make full use of all materials available on each platform.

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs or oral histories. They enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period to help them understand and interpret the past. (See definition from the American Library Association's Reference & User Services Association's History Section.)

Some examples of types and formats for primary sources include:

  • Books such as personal narratives, memoirs, and autobiographies, collected works, and collections of documents (these may be edited and published after the historical event or time period)
  • Journal, magazine, and newspaper articles 
  • Government publications
  • Archival sources such as diaries, interviews, letters, photographs, video recordings, and other media

Secondary sources are any published or unpublished works that are a step removed from original sources, usually describing, summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, derived from, or based on primary sources. Some examples of secondary sources are: histories about a topic, works of criticism and interpretation, monographs, textbooks, biographies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, handbooks and manuals, bibliographies, and directories. (See definition from ABC-CLIO Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science.)

General Tips

  • Begin your research with reference and other secondary sources (books and articles) that give you background and a framework for interpreting primary sources.
     
  • Look for primary sources in the footnotes and bibliographies of secondary source books and articles.
     
  • Search catalogs for primary sources in libaries, special collections and archives.
     
  • Look for online primary sources. Many primary sources have been digitized and are available on the Web. Some are found in the subscription databases that UW-Madison Libraries provides access to, and others available freely on the internet without needing to go through the library.
     
  • Ask a librarian for guidance in finding and evaluating primary sources related to your topic. Depending on your topic and need, you may want to contact a subject specialist librarian.

Librarian

Cynthia Bachhuber's picture
Cynthia Bachhuber
Contact:
Wisconsin Historical Society Library
816 State Street
Madison, WI 53714
608-264-6535

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