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World History: Primary Sources

This guide covers research materials for all histories except for North America

In General....

Finding primary sources for papers talking about international historical issues can seem impossible.  It is not impossible, but it does require that a particular paper or project be picked carefully, addressing the availability of sources.  Picking a project that requires access to documents only located at, say, the British Museum, or an archives in Zagreb, will require actual travel to that country.

Some of your options are outlined here.

Published Primary Sources

The writings of many famous people are published, and are often translated.  So, if you wanted to do a paper on Che Guervara, using his own words:

  • Go to OneSearch.  Put: Che Guevara diary  into the search box, and up comes a book from our collection entitled: Secret Papers of a Revolutionary, the Diary of Che Guevara

Another example could be that you wanted to write about letters by Mao Tse Tung.  

  • Go to OneSearch. Put:  Mao Tse Tung letters into the search box, and up comes a book from our collection entitled: Chairman Mao Talks to the People: Talks and Letters: 1956-1971 

Beyond works associated with an individual in history, you can also find primary sources for topics that extend beyond the boundaries of a particular country, region, or even idea.  For instance, if you wanted to write a paper on post-WWII economic treaties and the Soviet Union:

  • Go to OneSearch.  Put soviet treaties economic into the search box, and the following book from our collection comes up: Economic Treaties and Agreements of the Soviet Bloc in Eastern Europe, 1945-1951

So, adding words like Letters, Diary, Treaties, Agreements, Journal, etc.,  can take you to published collections of primary sources quickly.  If this does not work for the particular issue or person you are interested in, talk to someone in Reference, and they can help you look beyond CTW's collections.


Digital Collections of Primary Sources

More and more libraries, museums and foundations are giving people access to images of their manuscript and archival materials online.  The question is, how do you find these collections?  For some international figures, an online encyclopedia such as Wikipedia may give you good information about how to find both paper and digitized collections.  Searching Winston Churchill, for instance, turns up an extensive list of where to go to find his letters and papers.

Careful searching in Google can also bring you to some fascinating collections.   If you search mao tse tung archive, for instance, you quickly find a large collection of his writings in the Marxist Internet Archive.  Be aware that for many names (not Mao's) putting the name in quotes will help focus the search, such as "winston churchill" archive.  

Major universities and museums, and some private foundations, are putting thousands of original documents and images online.  If you are looking for ideas, try the following sites:

National Archives 

Oxford's Bodleian Library

Shapell Manuscript Foundation

Harvard Library's Digital Collections

Bibliotheque nationale de France - Gallica

Royal Danish Library

Michael Multilingual Inventory of Cultural Heritage in Europe

The British Museum

The British Library



...and many, many more.  As you search Google, you will come onto large, rich sites.  And search museums and national archives in countries that relate to what you might be interested in.


Primary Sources...In Person

Connecticut College, as a relatively small and new institution, does not have extensive manuscript and archival collections that are international in nature.  But, for instance, the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives in Shain Library does have some collections of letters and papers from World War I & II. 

Libraries that are close enough that using their collections would be possible would include:

In the case of all of these collections, however, your exploration must be done before you visit the collections themselves.  Look at what each institutions has put online, go and speak with Ben Panciera at our Lear Center in Shain.  The most effective practice of using special collections is that you have had some preliminary contact with the library, and that they are prepared for your visit.  You want to be regarded as a growing scholar, not as a tourist.