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Expos 20: The Ruling Class: Unit 3

The Assignment

For Essay no. 3, students will design their own research project analyzing primary evidence that addresses some research question relevant to the ruling class. You will collect and/or analyze primary data or evidence of some sort, and identify at least five secondary sources, at least three of which you have located yourself.


Steve Kuehler, Research Librarian
Email me! or --

Contact the Harvard University Archives

Contact the Schlesinger LIbrary of American Women's History

Topic Table

Types of Primary Evidence . . .

Archival records  •  Interviews  •  Surveys  •  Statistics (numerical data)  •  Official documents  •  Websites  •  Articles in the media  •  Public statements  •  Social media  •  YouTube videos, etc.

. . . and Four Ways to Find It

One good place to find primary sources is in the references and bibliographies of secondary ones. Your three course texts -- Khan's Privilege, Karen Ho's Liquidated, and Sherman's Uneasy Street -- all cite primary evidence, especially statistics, throughout their pages. See these examples. (Sherman, p. 7; Khan, p. 5-6 and Notes)

In the HOLLIS Basic or Advanced Search, combine your search topic with words such as:

  • Interviews
  • Case Studies
  • Research Studies
  • Qualitative OR Quantitative
  • Patterns
  • Ethnog* (the asterisk is a "wildcard character" that lets you search for ethnography, ethnographic, ethnographer, etc.)

In the Advanced Search, you can express your topic in general Keywords, or as a Subject using terms created by the Library of Congress (see more about this here).

Often, the sources you find will be a combination of primary data and secondary analysis of the data. Here are examples.

Sample searches in HOLLIS Advanced Search:

  • Keywords "elite students" and Keywords interviews OR statistics
  • KW "boarding schools" and KW "case studies"
  • KW "inherited wealth" and KW interviews
  • KW billionaires and KW qualitative AND data
  • KW "gated communities" and KW exclus* AND statistics
  • SUBJECT "country clubs" AND SUBJECT race OR racial
  • SUBJECT "upper class" AND SUBJECT education


The Harvard University Archives holds records of the experiences of Harvard students from all backgrounds, including the elite. The Harvard College Class Anniversary Reports (known informally as "the Red Books") are a particularly fruitful source of firsthand biographical accounts. Beginning with the Class of 1833 and continuing to the present, these reports contain autobiographical accounts submitted by alumni every five years after graduation. Search HOLLIS (Library Catalog mode) to find reports for specific classes. For successive reports of a single class, search for "anniversary report" AND [year] -- for example, "anniversary report" AND 1903.

Volumes published before 1964 may be available online through Google Books or the HathiTrust Digital Library. Search Google Books for Harvard Class Report (class year optional). In HathiTrust, search for Harvard Class Report in "Title" (class year optional) and search single volumes by keywords. (You'll need to log in as Harvard University on HathiTrust in order to download more than one page.) Visit the Harvard Archives in person to use other volumes. NOTE: Records of Radcliffe College Classes from 1879 to 1999 are held by the Schlesinger Library. The Harvard Class Reports were issued with Radcliffe beginning in 1973.

See sample Excerpts from Harvard Class Reports.

In selecting Harvard graduates to focus on, you can simply browse the volumes of Class Reports, or start with a list like Prominent Alumni, Famous Alumni, or Wikipedia's List of Harvard University People. After you've selected five or more individuals from the Class Reports, you'll need to contact the Archives about viewing student records and biographical files for these people. The Archives may not have this material for everyone you select. Their email address is

For more on the history and significance of the Class Reports, see: Red Books, Raw Gems: The College's Class Reports (Harvard Magazine) and Between the Lines of Harvard's Red Book (New York Times).

For other digitized historical records of Harvard, see Harvard University Archives Online Resources. For guides to finding specific kinds of information in the Archives, see Harvard University Archives Research Guides.

A statistics portal that integrates thousands of diverse topics of data and facts from a wide range of sources onto a single platform. Sources of information include market research, trade publications, scientific journals, and government databases.

Sample report: Millionaires in the United States

For other statistical sources, see the Beginner's Guide to Locating and Using Numeric Data, by Harvard Librarian Diane Sredl.

Finding Secondary Sources

HOLLIS has two main parts. There’s the traditional Library Catalog of Harvard's books, journals, films, sound recordings, maps, and so on. Then there’s a huge additional database of articles, reviews, etc. which come from various sources outside Harvard. Many of these are available in full text online through Harvard's subscriptions.

You can search the Library Catalog separately, or  -- especially if you want to see articles -- search for "Catalog and Articles." These choices appear as soon as you start to type a search.

Turn to the next page for tips on using HOLLIS effectively.

Use the Selected Databases for faster access to more relevant search results. To find even more, go to HOLLIS Databases.

But . . . won't I get all the articles I need with HOLLIS?
HOLLIS will give you a lot of articles, but specialized databases can give you more focused results from specific fields of study.

Most of the records in HOLLIS have linked Subject Headings that you can use as a springboard for finding similar items. Most of the headings in the Library Catalog have been specially crafted by the Library of Congress. For example, here are the subject headings for Khan's book Privilege:

Go to the Subject Heading Tips to see how you can use a main heading like Boarding schools to search for specific treatments of this topic.