Skip to Main Content

HIST 236: Renaissance Europe (Bush): Primary Sources

Spring 2024

Working with Primary Sources


  • Keep your searches simple, and be creative with your search terms. How did people in the period you are researching speak and write?  What words would they have used to describe events or ideas? Are there specific names or organizations that you can focus in on? 

  • Work with, not against, your search tools. Databases designed for primary sources often will let you narrow your search by features like publication date, geographic location, or type of source. 
  • Pay attention to the order of search results.  If your search is very broad or you get a lot of results, sorting by relevance can help you find starting places. But when looking at newspapers or other sources that might build on each other and create a story over time, you may want to sort Oldest to Newest instead! 
  • Don't just search -- browse! Keyword searching for primary sources can be imprecise, especially if you don't know exactly what you're looking for. Give yourself time to click in and out of sources you're unsure of, browse through the pages, and look at the context of sources like newspaper articles (what other stories appeared on the same day? what advertisements?) for maximum information. 
  • Pace yourself. Primary sources can take longer to find than academic articles. You may also need more time to decipher, digest, and interpret the content of your primary sources. Leave yourself plenty of time to do this work, and ask questions or for assistance earlier rather than later! 


[Sources in Other Languages]

Using Google Translate for Web Research

Collections of Primary Sources

Collections of Primary Sources


The following research guide has a number of great image resources: 

You may wish to take advantage of tools for reverse image searching to get more information about images you have found or to locate similar/related images. Ask Jennifer for help! 

 Guide to Reverse Image Searching 

Correspondence & Other 'Ephemera'

(Historical) Books

Religious Sources

Misc. Web Archives


Some of the best digitized primary sources exist in scattered repositories dedicated to specific topics, collections, etc. But how do you find them?

Google Site Search is an invaluable tool for locating primary sources on the web: 

  • site:*.edu renaissance will search for references to the Renaissance across educational websites and hit many libraries, archives and universities; 
  • site:*.org renaissance will search the same non-profit websites (including museums and other cultural heritage institutions, but also less reputable organizations -- so read carefully for bias!). 
  • Looking for sources from a specific country? Most countries have their own domain. For example, to find sources posted on Italian websites, you could search site:*.it. Just be aware of where these sources are coming from, and evaluate the websites carefully! 

You should also pay attention to any collections of primary sources referenced in your secondary sources. For example, if a course reading mentions that a particular university's archives have an important collection of documents relating to women in the Renaissance, you should visit the archives' site to find out if they have digitized any of these sources. 

In the Archives

In the Archives

Using the Archives & Distinctive Collections

Depending on your topic, you may want to take advantage of some of the primary source collections available to you in the Holy Cross Archives & Distinctive Collections. Some tips to keep in mind if you are considering archival research: 

  • Archives & Distinctive Collections are located on the 3rd floor of Dinand Library.  They are open during the week (Mon-Fri) by appointment only 9am-12pm, and for general research (no appointment needed) 1-4pm.  They are also open 6-9pm Mon & Tues evenings.
  • Although appointments are only required in the mornings, it is highly recommended that you reach out to the (very helpful!) staff before your visit for guidance and to let them know what materials you would like to view. You can contact them at 
  • Before visiting, make sure you are familiar with the policies and procedures. Note especially that you are not allowed to use pens or highlighters in the reading room, to protect the materials, but lockers are provided to store any such items as well as food, drink etc. 
  • Archival research does not come with electronic searching, and can be an exciting (but time-consuming) journey! -- make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to browse the collections and to digest what you find. And, be sure to take excellent notes! 

Ask an Archivist

You can use this easy form to ask a question or make an appointment with our Archives & Distinctive Collections staff. Or, email