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University of Wollongong Australia

Finding historical information

Learn how to find historical source material and where to find it.

Finding and evaluating historical evidence

What you can learn from this page:

  • The types of sources you find most useful (e.g. newspapers, biographies, etc.) will depend on your research topic
  • Using particular types of historical sources in your assessment (e.g. words, images and sounds)

Where to look for primary sources

When you want to research a topic from the past, it's important to have some understanding of the type of information you might expect to find in historical records.

To find out...

Look for...

What happened when and where?

Who was involved or affected?

  • Authoritative historical overviews
  • Historical subject dictionaries and encyclopedias

Why were people, organisations, events, issues or movements significant?

  • Textbooks and handbooks
  • Documentary history and source books
  • Journal and magazine articles

What did people, places or movements look like or sound like?

  • Photographs, illustrations, cartoons
  • Historical maps and atlases
  • Newsreel footage
  • Music scores and lyrics

What were people or organisations saying about events, experiences and attitudes?

  • News and popular press articles and interviews
  • Biographies, oral histories, letters
  • Publications of specific professions and occupations

What was the government officially saying or doing?

  • Government announcements, debates, reports

How many were involved in, produced or affected by events, movements or issues?

  • Statistical yearbooks and reports

Keeping track of your sources

Annotated lists are a great way to keep track of your research findings. Annotating your research with useful notes will help you to sort and identify important information and save you time when you start writing.

Evaluating and analysing your sources

When you're working with historical sources it's important to know:

  • who created or owned them at the time (provenance)
  • why they were saying what they said (historical viewpoint)

Finding historical information offline

You'll quickly find that not all historical information is available, or easily found, online.

Some historical topics are more in-demand than others due to popular interest (like our Harbour Bridge example below). These popular topics have a greater range of digitised material.

You may find more extensive information exists in print (hardcopy), so it’s a good idea to ask the Library!

Activity & self-assessment

Where and how will you look for firsthand accounts and other information from the relevant era relating to your topic?