The Interplay of Primary and Secondary Sources

  • If you're searching for primary sources on a topic, one good place to look is a secondary source that cites original texts, manuscripts, and archives.
  • Conversely, published editions of primary sources will often cite secondary sources for added context, commentary, and history.
  • In particular, critical editions of literary works often have extensive commentary and analysis.

A good starting point for finding both primary and secondary sources is a reference work or bibliography. One e-resource that combines both is Oxford Bibliographies. Another resource, Oxford Reference Online, lets you search across hundreds of reliable reference sources.

You can also find reference works in HOLLIS by combining your subject with keywords like Encyclopedia, Guide, Dictionary, Handbook, Companion, or Introduction.

A Few Extra Tips

► To find subject headings for browsing, bring up the HOLLIS record for a book you already know about; or do a keyword search for your topic, such as Thomas Mann or French fashion or Early modern painters. (This is how I found some of the subject headings suggested on the following pages.)

► Use the Advanced Search in HOLLIS to combine a subject heading with other keywords, e.g.

  • Subject Thomas Mann + Keyword Weimar
  • Subject Fashion + Keyword Feminism
  • Subject Dutch art + Keyword Economy

► If the HOLLIS record for a book doesn't tell you enough about its contents, try searching for the book in Google Books. Even if the entire text is not available, you can often get a substantial preview, and search by keyword to see if the book mentions a particular topic.

► When you browse, look for subjects with these subheadings: Diaries • Interviews • Sources • Archival resources • Newspapers • Personal Narratives •  Biography • Pictorial Works • Comic Books • Caricatures and cartoons

For novels, plays, and stories about a topic, look for subject headings with these subheadings: Fiction • In Literature • Juvenile fiction • Drama • Poetry • Literary collections

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Steve Kuehler