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HIST 165: Slavery, Race, and Rights in American History

Using Google to Find Primary Sources

Why use Google?

Many universities and government institutions are actively digitalizing historic materials, but it can be difficult to know where to look. Filtering through a regular Google search can be daunting when faced with results from across the globe. You can use a special strategy when searching Google to find materials from institutions digitizing materials! This strategy also works well for finding background information on a topic, as many cultural institutions write blog posts or introductions to historic events.

The Site: Command

What it does: The site command brings you search results from the site or domain you search. Using this command you can search only within .edu or .gov domains. You can also use it to search the Library of Congress's site,

Examples: site:edu or

Notes: Be careful if searching for Not all websites that end in .edu are universities or other educational institutions, the domain can be used by anyone.

Example Searches

fugitive slave act --> This search will find anything about the fugitive slave act on the Library of Congress website

Anthony Burns site:edu or site:gov --> This search will find anything about Anthony Burns on websites with the .edu or .gov domain

Finding Primary Sources: Newspapers

Finding Primary Resources: Court Cases and Legal Documents

Boston Public Library eCard

The Boston Public Library offers many more resources for finding primary and secondary sources! To obtain an eCard follow the directions in the link below. The Boston Public Library eCard is available to anyone who lives, works, or studies in Massachusetts. 

A Case Study

Introduction to the Case Study

Understanding which sources to use when can be challenging. This is one of the reasons we do background reading before we start our research. Below is a case study of the though process of finding primary sources relating to Anthony Burns and the resistance in Massachusetts to the Fugitive Slave Act. Before I even start searching, I want to make a list of the types of things I might be looking for:

  1. Materials about Anthony Burns - Did he write anything? What was written about him in his time?
  2. The Fugitive Slave Act - Should I include the text of the act as a primary source? What were contemporary newspapers writing about the Fugitive Slave Act?
  3. Resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act - Where there broadsides written? How was this covered in newspapers?

These questions can help guide us to which sources to search.

Searching News Papers

In this example I want to know what may have been written about Anthony Burns, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act in newspapers of this time. Here are some sources that can help you find newspaper articles about any of the above:

Finding the Fugitive Slave Act and Commentary

When researching an act or a court case, one of your primary sources should be the actual text of the act or court case. The following resources will help you find legal documents, and historic and contemporary commentary on legal matters

Finding Everything Else

For other materials, like broadsides, pamphlets, books, etc., use the Google search strategies outlines elsewhere in this guide or the following resources:


Final Notes:

The resources outlined above are helpful for the time period of interest. For other time periods, other resources may be more appropriate. Use this guide to find other sources, or talk to a librarian to find other resources.

Case Study Walk-through

This video provides a brief walk-through of some of the resources listed above.