Skip to Main Content

Advanced Research Strategies

Discovering, Accessing, and Identifying Primary Sources

Identifying Sources of Information


  • How your topic would be documented. What kinds of sources are likely to contain relevant information: letters, diaries, founding documents, newspapers, reports, etc.
  • Who or what would have produced or generated information about your topic: Individuals, groups, committees, clubs, corporations, government agencies, etc.
  • Connections: Who was involved? Were they affiliated with a group, organization, religious order, academic institution that has archives?

Keep in mind that relevant sources may not be in a single collection.

  • Some archives specialize in certain types of collections –labor-related, Chicago literary figures, etc.
  • Special collections hold manuscripts, documents, rare books, other formats covering a wide range of eras and topics.
  • State or local historical societies usually collect papers and official records that reflect the geographic location.
  • University archives focus on people and activities that are directly connected to the institution.
  • Check bibliographies in publications - look for “archival sources”, “unpublished sources,” etc.
  • Ask about other repositories or resources the archivist may know about.

Online Databases & Sources for Archival Research

Essential Databases

A few examples of collections or portals focusing on regions, countries, or fields of research


Some Historic Newspapers and Periodicals

Other Sites of Interest

Northwestern University Libraries Subscription Databases

A good place to start is with the Northwestern University Subject Librarians  and the Research Guides for specific departments and areas of study.

To see a list of the digital primary source databases available through NU Libraries, go to the  A-Z Databases page and limit the database type to "Digitized Primary Sources." Then filter by your subject of interest in the top left drop-down box.

Some examples:

Wiley Digital Archives

Gale Archives of Sexuality and Gender

Gale Archives of Political Extremism and Radicalism

The Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives 1960–1974 from Alexander Street

McCormick Library of Special Collections and University Archives Digital Resources