Google itself may not be a scholarly, citable resource, but in the ever-expanding era of digital libraries it can be a powerful tool for locating primary source materials that have been digitized and made available online by many libraries, archives, and cultural heritage institutions such as museums and historical societies. However, it is important that you first evaluate the validity and credibility of the sources and providers of any material you find before using them for your research.
It is important to remember that although many primary source research materials have been made available online, they represent only a small fraction of the total. Depending on your topic, you may have varying degrees of success searching Google for primary source materials.
Primary sources have many different names, so it is important to have a good list of terms to use when developing your searches. One good way to manipulate Google into finding the kinds of resources you need is to use the right terms in your searches. Try the following words:
Another good practice is to use the "OR" connector to find subject synonyms within your search, and combine these with primary source term synonyms when creating your search string.
Sample Search: (segregation OR "jim crow") AND (documents OR diaries)
Robin M. Katz, a Primary Source Literacy Librarian at UC-Riverside, has developed a handout with more suggestions on how to create strong search terms when using Google for primary source searching.
Increasingly in the 21st century, social media is becoming a means of not only sharing personal events and thoughts, but also a means of documenting historical events as they unfold. All social media platforms CAN house primary source materials, but NOT all social media posts SHOULD BE considered primary sources. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and even TikTok have the potential to provide excellent in-the-moment primary source material, but it will require a concerted effort on the part of the researcher to determine whether social media posts are primary sources or secondary sources.
NOTE: An aggregator site exists at DocNow (https://www.docnow.io/), where you can find tools to work with Tweet Catalog, which houses large datasets of Twitter IDs. Using Tweet Catalog requires downloading Hydrator, which is open-source software from GitHub that will allow you to turn tweet ids into readable tweets with metadata. A few exceptions exist on Tweet Catalog, where the data and tweets are accessible without the use of Hydrator, but this is not the norm.
Robin M. Katz, a Primary Source Literacy Librarian at UC-Riverside, has developed a handout with specific steps on how to evaluate primary sources found online when using Google for primary source searching.
Robin M. Katz, a Primary Source Literacy Librarian at UC-Riverside, has developed a handout with specific steps on how to evaluate social media when searching for primary sources online.