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Hist 410/510: Colonialism, China & Japan

How to use this guide

Find the types of sources that you need by selecting the options in the menu -- for instance "Books" or "Journals & Articles."

If you want more specific research help or if you have a question (simple or complex) please email Kevin McDowell at or Xiaotong Wang at

Shanghai Wharf Scene (Gertrude Bass Warner Lantern Slides, 1903-1929)

What are primary sources?

"A primary source is a document, image, or artifact that provides evidence about the past. It is an original document created contemporaneously with the event under discussion. A direct quote from such a document is classified as a primary source. A secondary source is a book, article, film, or museum that displays primary sources selectively in order to interpret the past." Robert C. Williams, The Historian's Toolbox

Primary sources allow us to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a historical event or time period. Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Books, magazine, and newspaper articles published at the time
  • Hand-written documents like diaries and journals
  • Maps
  • Laws and court cases
  • Speeches, interviews, letters
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Literary manuscripts
  • Records of government agencies
  • Public opinion polls
  • Fiction from a particular time and place
  • Research data
  • Religious or philosophical texts
  • Artifacts of all kinds: physical objects, furniture, tools, clothing, etc.
  • Photographs, audio recordings, movies, and videos
  • Art, including paintings, prints, and other media
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