A Sample Search for Primary Sources


2. Faculty, English

I'm teaching an English honors seminar this spring, and I'm hoping to include a component of primary research. There was widespread discussion in the Victorian popular periodical press of matters related to the concerns of this course -- physiological psychology, mesmerism, evolution, phrenology, vivisection, and so on. But I'm unsure what the best ways of helping students enter into the research might be, and what kind of access is available to original texts (presumably, principally online or in microforms).


So my first response to this request would be to ask for the catalog description and the syllabus if available so I could get a better grasp of the exact content and original format desired (only popular publications or scientific publications from the period as well? ), along the same lines of Alana’s request. In addition to Alana's description of databases sources available, I just wanted to point out that one of Research Port’s Subjects is ‘Newspapers’ and a sub subject is historical newspapers.

With databases covered, I decided to see what I could find online in terms of additional primary sources. I started with Google and searched ‘Victorian AND pseudoscience’. But I did not get much relevant resources other than Wikipedia and blog posts on the subject.

I next searched for the ‘Victorian Society’ because I am aware of its existence and hit up on their website as well as Victorian Web. The Victorian Web was much more useful and had some nice articles about scientific study during the Victorian period as well as links to scientific primary sources.

It occurred to me that since I was searching for scientific documents the National Library of Medicine might have some primary sources available online. So I went to their website and found the following exhibit: Historical Anatomies on the Web.

Next I used the terms provided by the researcher and searched for ‘craniotomy AND phrenology’. This brought me to The History of Phrenology on the Web and Darwin Online. Both of which seemed to have many primary sources.

Since the instructor also asked for help teaching students to research and work with primary sources, I Googled ‘Teaching with Primary Sources’ to find the Library of Congress’s eponymous program. I found their guide to using primary sources. I also came across NARA’s version of the same resource. NARA also had a series of documents available to help students analyze primary sources (which might be below upper-division undergraduate students, but it might not be).