Skip to Main Content

English Novel to 1832: ENG 3232

Research help for Steve Newman's version of the course, "English Novel to 1832."

Why Use Primary Sources?

brown paper and black penPrimary sources are firsthand accounts of an event -- or original records created during that time period -- which do not contain any outside interpretation. Primary sources can include letters, diaries, or interviews; historical news reportage; original works of fiction, art, or music; testimony or speeches.

When and Why You Should Use Primary Sources:

  • You need a better understanding of an event, produced by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question
  • You need to offer a view of history through the lens of of unique, often profoundly personal, documents or objects
  • You need examples of different points of view from individuals whose stories might not have been told

Remember: Primary sources are the building blocks of historical research and should provide the foundation of your argument and interpretation, whereas secondary sources should inform and supplement the primary sources. Use your primary sources as evidence for answering your research question and write based on those sources, rather than “plugging them in” after the fact to bolster your argument. In short, primary sources should drive the paper, not the other way around.

Historical Manuscripts

manuscriptManuscripts are useful because they can provide insight into the production of works as well as document the lives of significant literary figures.

The term "manuscript" literally means "written by hand" and encompasses a broad array of documents and records of numerous formats and types, including letters & correspondence, diaries & journals, memoirs & autobiographies, papers relating to published and unpublished literary works, as well as handwritten notes.

Historical Newspapers & Magazines

Front page of The New York TimesNewspapers can contain accounts of what was occurring when specific literary works were published. They are also useful for their relative immediacy, recording history as it happened. 

Historical Ephemera & More

examples of ephemeraEphemera is useful because its sheer variety (posters, maps, advertisements, trade cards, programs, etc.) provides a glimpse into a historical period's cultural, economic, and social customs & traditions.

Still not sure what constitutes ephemera?  Take a look at these examples...

Quirks of 17th & 18th Century Historical Sources

Narrative of the Proceedings Against the Pirates &coReading 17th and 18th century documents has its quirks. When working with databases that contain these documents, remember to look for these options:

  • Variant spellings: Before the standardization of English, many words had a number of alternate spellings. Check to see if your database has a variant spellings feature, or enter variants manually. 
    • Examples: pyrate, pyracy, piracy, pirates, pyrates, buccaneer 
  • The long S: This symbol ſ was used when S appeared in the beginning and middle of a word.
  • U and V: These letters used to be interchangable, with v appearing at the beginning of a word and u in the middle.
  • Dates: Some databases may permit searches outside of your date range, so take care to limit dates if necessary.