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University of Wollongong Australia

Historical Primary Sources: Getting Started

Help finding historical primary sources at UOW and elsewhere.


Finding primary sources can sometimes be quite challenging. We're here to help you! This guide shows you the different types of historical sources that are available on the Web or in hardcopy from UOW and other libraries and how to search for ones on specific topics. Our 'Getting Started' page includes short interactive tutorials and a useful worksheet you can download.

First Ask Yourself ...

What do you already know about your topic? (Are you looking for a specific historical event, person, organisation, movement?) Have you identified any key gaps in your knowledge?

Start with secondary sources

To find ...

Use ...

Background information, key dates, professions, locations, names of significant people, institutions

  • Dictionaries and Encyclopedias 

In depth information, further references & clues to other information

  • Books

Discussion of the significance of a person, organisation/institution, theme/movement or event 

  • Journal articles

Summaries giving overviews, facts and further references

  • Authoritative websites

Make your search time more efficient

Then Ask Yourself ...

What do you know about the types of records written or produced at that time about events and issues relating to your topic?

Look for primary sources
To find out ... Look for ...

What was life/society like at that time?

  • Yearbooks
  • Documentary history books

What were the experiences, beliefs or priorities of relevant individuals, groups or organisations?

  • Biographies & autobiographies
  • Interviews, letters, diaries
  • Reports & journals for specific occupations or professions

What was the government attitude? What was the government of the day saying?

  • Government reports, debates & announcements

How many were involved in or affected by this issue/event? 

  • Statistical yearbooks & reports

What were people being told?

  • Newspaper articles

What did the person or institution look like?

  • Photographs & illustrations

Use a Discovery Search Engine

Try Trove for finding books, articles and images from many libraries and other institutions across Australia. Some items are freely available online.

Search results will often include both current and historical material and a range of both secondary and primary sources.

Use Trove Advanced Search to combine more than one keyword or phrase or limit to specific year range. When viewing results use the Decade facet to further narrow by publication date/year (eg. 1950-1959)

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