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HIST 1520 Immigrant Voices in Modern America: Finding Primary Sources

This is a course research guide for students in HIST 1520.


Welcome!  This research guide will provide you with tips and tricks for finding both primary and secondary sources on American Immigrants.  A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Examples of primary sources include diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news footage, and autobiographies.  A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources.  These sources are one or more steps removed from the event.  Examples of secondary sources include journal and magazine articles, books and textbooks, commentaries, and criticisms.

To get started, review the tips below for searching for primary souces, and secondary sources tab for further tips.  Then select a tab above for examples of primary sources for various immigrant groups.

Finding Primary Sources

The library catalog should be your first stop to find primary sources on immigrants.  To find primary source books, use the search box below.  When searching in the library catalog, use short words and phrases.  Do not type in long sentences. Use quotes to search for an exact phrase.  If you have trouble finding primary sources, use the tabs above to find specific recommendations for searching for different immigrant groups.

Special Tips

  • Autobiographies are often classified as biographies in the catalog.  If you search for the term biography, very carefully examine the book information to make sure that it is an autobiography.  An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.  An autobiography is considered to be a primary source.  A biography is a book about the life of a person, written by someone other than the subject of the book.  Biographies are secondary sources. 

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Multiethnic American Literature has entries on autobiographies of various enthnic groups in the United States, and will provide some names of authors of immigrants.

Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America has background information of various enthnic groups in the United States, and will provide some names of individuals of immigrants.

  • There are many historical fiction novels about American immigrants.  They may sometimes be based on real-life stories, but are not considered to be scholarly primary or secondary sources.  If you see the word "fiction" in the subject terms for a book, you will need to pick a different source.
  • When performing a keyword search for your topic, try adding one of the words below to find primary source materials.
    • personal narratives
    • biography
    • memoir
    • autobiography
  • If you are not able to find what you need at University Libraries, try searching Prospector or WorldCat (listed below) to request a book from another library.

Librarian Profile

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Elia Trucks
Anderson Academic Commons
2150 E. Evans Ave.
Denver, CO 80208