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.
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, loc.gov.
Examples: site:edu or site:loc.gov
Notes: Be careful if searching for site:.edu. Not all websites that end in .edu are universities or other educational institutions.
fugitive slave act site:loc.gov --> 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
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:
These questions can help guide us to which sources to search.
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:
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
For other materials, like broadsides, pamphlets, books, etc., use the Google search strategies outlines elsewhere in this guide or the following resources:
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.
This video provides a brief walk-through of some of the resources listed above.
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.