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Primary Sources

Primary Sources in BU Libraries Search

The search box on the main library webpage  is a good place to begin a search for primary sources. The library uses Library of Congress subject headings to classify the books in the collection and there are a number of Library of Congress subheadings that point to primary sources. They are:

  • correspondence
  • sources
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • interviews
  • speeches
  • documents
  • archives
  • early works to 1800

These terms can be used in a subject search or a keyword search. Examples of subject searches would be:

  • World War- 1914-1918 – Personal Narratives
  • Composers- Germany- Correspondence
  • Soviet Union- History- Sources

Examples of keyword searches would be:

  • Civil War and diaries
  • American Revolution and sources
  • Pablo Picasso and interviews

Many primary documents are reprinted in published sources such as Documents of American History, Annals of America, and Speeches of the American Presidents and these and others are available in the library.

What's the Difference Between Keyword and Subject Searching?

Subject searches will generally retrieve a more complete listing of sources than will keyword searches. Because Library of Congress subject headings are not always the first terms that come to mind (i.e. World War II is classified as World War- 1939-1945), keyword searches can be useful in identifying some sources. Note or click on the LC subject headings listed at the bottom of the record to look for further information on the topic through a subject search.Search by author to find writings by a particular individual or to find publications from an organization or government agency. Examples would be:

  • Roosevelt, Franklin D.
  • United States. Environmental Protection Agency
  • World Bank

Finding Material Not at BU

Worldcat, a database of items found in libraries throughout the world, allows one to search for books and other materials not owned by the library. Some of these materials may be requested through interlibrary loan, especially if they are reprints or microfilm of primary sources. Rare books and archival materials are generally not available through interlibrary loan.


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Donald Altschiller
Mugar Memorial Library
Subjects: History, Religion