Finding Primary Sources

Sources can be found numerous classes of historical record.  This page lists a variety of such classes and offers links to resources for exploring them.

Searching in HOLLIS

To find books, periodicals, manuscripts, videos, etc., on a topic in HOLLIS, put in likely keywords and choose Library Catalog.  Look at pertinent records and find the terms under Subject. For example, searching Fukushima yields:

Fukushima: impacts and implications, by David Elliott. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, 145 p.
Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, Japan, 2011.
Nuclear energy -- Government policy.
Nuclear energy -- Environmental aspects.

Under Refine my results: Subject on the right of the results list there are more main terms (Nuclear power plants; Radioactive pollution) to try, but not the terms after the dashes ( -- Government policy) which are called subdivisions. NOTE: If you hit one of the terms in this Subject list, HOLLIS will find records with the term, say  Radioactive pollution only on records in the set originally formed by searching Fukushima

Redo your search using the terms that HOLLIS uses.    Also, go to Starts with.../Browse (top black band) and put in, say, Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, Japan, 2011, adjusting to Browse by Subject.  This is very useful in breaking down a large subject and in giving you more subdivisions, which can be applied to other Subject terms, to search.  Thus:

  • Nuclear energy -- Government policy
  • Nuclear power plants -- Government policy

Whenever you have a reference to a useful book, look it up in HOLLIS and see what the Subject terms are.

Any pertinent book published during your era may be a primary source, but certain kinds of primary sources, including originally unpublished sources such as letters and diaries published later, have particular terms attached to their Subject terms in a HOLLIS record.  Change Any field to Subject for cleanest results.

  • --Archives
  • --Correspondence
  • --Description and travel
  • --Diaries
  • --Manuscripts
  • --Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.
  • --Personal narratives (refers to accounts of wars and diseases only)
  • --Sources (usually refers to collections of published primary sources)

Keywords anywhere contains: Fukushima
Subject contains: Archives OR Correspondence OR Diaries OR Manuscripts OR Sources OR Narratives

When you find a pertinent book, go to Starts With.../Browse and put in the call number, adjusting the menu to Library of Congress (Wid-LC) or Other. This shows you other books on the same subject, even though they may be in storage or checked out.

See the Library Research Guide for History and the HOLLIS Help guide for more information on searching HOLLIS.


Find bibliographies in HOLLIS Library Catalog by searching your keyword plus the word Bibliography (which must be limited to Subject).

Keywords anywhere contains: Asia environment*
Subject contains: Bibliography

Digital Libraries

HathiTrust Digital Library includes a searchable database of digitized books and periodicals contributed by numerous libraries. Includes items contributed by these libraries to Google Books and to Internet Archive but with some unique material. Each full text item is linked to a standard library catalog record, thus providing good metadata. The catalog can be searched separately. Globally full text searchable, like Google Books and Internet Archive. Full text is fully viewable.

Document Collections

United States Joint Publications Research Service is a government agency which translates foreign language books, newspapers, journals, unclassified foreign documents and research reports.  Emphasis on communist and third world countries.

To find more collections of primary sources in HOLLIS Library Catalog, search Sources as a Subject keyword.Sources usually refers to published collections of primary sources of several different types. 

Fukushima AND Japan AND Sources  [Use caps for AND]

Since Sources is a common word, 'Limit to: Subject' eliminates many irrelevant results.  Limit to English.

Environmental Periodical Literature

Environment Index (1973- )

GreenFILE covers environmental studies, both scholarly and general interest titles, as well as government documents and reports.

JSTOR allows simultaneous or individual searching, full-text searching optional, of several ecological journals from their inceptions to about 5 years ago. List of included journals available in Advanced Search.


To find films about a place in HOLLIS,  go to Advanced search, adjust menu to Place, enter your place, then on the right side of the results screen, look at Resource Type and choose video/film. Example.

To find books about films about your topic, search Topic keywords AND Subject "in motion pictures". Example

Film Platform offers numerous documentary films on a wide variety of subjects.  There are collections on several topics. Searches can be filtered by topic, country of production, and language. 


A gazetteer is an alphabetical place name list with information on former names, physical features, social statistics, population, etc., depending on the particular gazetteer. Often a very rich resource.

Numerous gazetteers in paper format can be found by searching China Gazetteers in HOLLIS.

Government Documents

Government documents are publications intended to be released to the public.

United States

In HathiTrust Advanced Catalog search, search, for example, All fields: Korea, Full View Only, limiting to 1945-1952. This will yield, largely, US government publications on Korea.

The Foreign Relations of the United States series, issued by the State Department, largely comprises declassified material chosen to document US foreign relations: Foreign Relations of the United States (University of Wisconsin version, 1861-1960).

Scroll down to the late 1940s, and browse or search within particular volumes.

ProQuest Congressional provides indexing for Congressional publications dating from 1790 to the present. Post-1970, full-text access is often available. Publications included are Committee Hearings, House and Senate Documents, House and Senate Reports, Senate Executive Reports, Senate Executive Treaty Documents, Legislative Histories, Serial Set Maps, Serial Set.

Office of Strategic Services (OSS)-State Department intelligence and research reports, 1941-1961 (ProQuest history vault) 

Other Countries

In HOLLIS Library Catalog Advanced Search, search, say, Korea as Author, limiting to English and 1945-1952. This will yield, largely, Korean government publications in English. The date limitation acts eccentrically, so there will be some irrelevant results.

LLMC Digital. The collections offered by this vast digital library can be browsed under: Browse Collections. Very good for foreign government documents.


Guidebooks published for tourists and other visitors can be rich sources of historical information. Find them in HOLLIS Advanced search with:

Subject: Japan Guidebooks


Records for many, but by no means all, individual Harvard University Library images are available in HOLLIS Images, an online catalog of images. Records include subjects and a thumbnail image.

Combining your topical words with the phrase "Pictorial Works" in HOLLIS yields books that are largely composed of pictures.

National Geographic Photo Archive



The Harvard Map Collection contains one of the world’s finest collections of maps. Although their atlases are in HOLLIS, many of their older, individual maps are not. To get there, enter Lamont, go down to Level B, walk down the corridor to the West end, turn right, and walk down the corridor past the Theodore Roosevelt exhibit.

To search for maps in HOLLIS, use advanced search and limit by Location to Map Coll (Pusey).


For US newspaper coverage, see Guide to Newspapers and Newspaper Indexes.

Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, 1947-1996. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service is a US government agency which translates daily radio and television broadcasts, newspapers and periodicals, government statements, books, etc. from non-English sources worldwide. Reports with translations are issued for eight world regions daily and cover such topics as military affairs, politics, the environment, societal issues, economics, and science and technology.

Personal Accounts/Oral History

To find them in HOLLIS Library Catalog search:

Keywords anywhere: Fukushima
Subject contains: diaries OR archives OR correspondence OR narratives OR interviews

Limit to English

Using Subject contains Fukushima would eliminate works by the author named Fukushima, but might exclude pertinent results as well.

The Subject term Biography will retrieve a mixture of biographies and autobiographies.

Personal narratives is the term attached to records for writings by participants in wars and victims of diseases.


For coverage in US popular periodicals see Library Research Guide for History: General and Popular Periodicals

Periodical indexes for particular professions and disciplines (Education, Politics, etc) are listed in the Library Research Guide for History.

Policy Literature

PolicyFile (1990-) offers public policy reports and studies published by think tanks, university research programs, research organizations including the OECD, IMF, World Bank, the Rand Corporation, and a number of federal agencies.

Policy Archive is a digital library of public policy research containing over 30,000 documents.

Think Tank Search - from the Kennedy School of Government, a customized Google search of documents produced by think tanks.

Google advanced search. You can limit by domain: .org

Travel Accounts

Visitors' reports of their observations may be useful sources

Keywords anywhere contains: Yangtze
Subject exact phrase: Description and travel

Limit to English

You can search for keywords in travel books on a certain country for a specified time period in Hathitrust Advanced Full Text Search by putting your keywords in the first search box and, in the second, as Title phrase, a specific book, or, as Subject, Yangtze "Description and travel".  Phases and proper names work best. Remember that a travel book may be published long after the time on the visit.