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Primary sources for humanities: Finding sources

Getting started

You can find primary source materials in a variety of places

  • Look at the relevant tab of this guide for your area of research to be directed to relevant primary source databases, or start with one of the large platforms that search many of these databases (links below)
  • Use Advanced Search to find published primary sources (instructions below).
  • Check Monash Special Collections (instructions below).
  • Look at the footnotes in secondary sources you're reading.


Primary source database platforms

Through Monash you have access to hundreds of primary source databases. The platforms below allow you to search across many of them at the same time. Start here if you're not sure which databases might be relevant to your topic, then go to those databases where you're getting results to do a more thorough search.

Find published primary sources using Search

1. Go to Advanced Search.

2. Change the default any to in subject

3. Use any of the below terms, which will bring up primary sources:

  • sources
  • diaries
  • correspondence
  • trials
  • pamphlets
  • manuscripts
  • "personal narratives"

Combine them with OR to search for more than one 'type' of primary source.

4. In the next box type a keyword that describes your topic.

5. Change the Search Scope from All resources to Library Collection

For example if you were looking for writings by early settlers in Australia that described their relationships with Australian Aborigines, you could search as follows:

Screenshot of search results

The asterisk retrieves all the words which start with aborigin, ie: aboriginal and aborigines. The quotation marks around "personal narratives" ensures that the two words are found as a phrase.

Special Collections

Special Collections at Monash University Library contains an excellent collection of primary sources in both printed and manuscript form that can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Use the Advanced Search function and refine your Search scope to - Search for: Library Special Collections:
Advanced search for special collections

The Special Collections and the Special Collections Room is located in the Matheson Library and is open from Monday to Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm. For further enquiries, please come and speak to us in the Reading Room or call tel: +61 3 9905 5054.