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ENGL 431: American Frontiers: Identifying Primary Sources

Selecting Your Primary Source Material

Selecting your primary source text or case is one of the most important decisions you will make as you undertake this research project.  Try to give yourself sufficient time to explore multiple options.  You will want to choose primary materials that invite numerous questions related to the theme of the course and to your proposed research question.  You will want to select a primary source that is rich and complex enough to allow for extended analysis and interpretation.  Be aware that your research question may need to be reshaped as you analyze your primary sources and learn more about your topic.

The resources and strategies discussed on this page will help you identify relevant primary source material for your independent research.

Recommended Primary Sources

Below is a list of recommended primary texts not on the syllabus for your course.

Consulting a Subject Encyclopedia

The entries in subject encyclopedias are written by scholars and typically provide an overview of both the topic and the ways that scholars have interpreted this topic.  In some cases, such as with the encyclopedia listed below, a list of primary source materials is also provided.

The Encyclopedia of Frontier Literature offers entries based on geographical locations, genres (short fiction, poetry, etc.), major writers and works, and larger themes and issues (such as law and order or the captivity motif).  Each entry references a variety of primary sources.  Once you identify some choices, you'll need to go to Collins Library Primo Search to find a copy.

Using Library of Congress Subject Headings

Books in Collins Library Primo Search are assigned Library of Congress subject headings. There are several subject headings that will help you identify primary source materials.

Click on any of the links below to see lists of books that share that subject heading.

Browsing Anthologies and Collections

Anthologies or collections of writing can give you a sense of the range of choices available to you. The contents of anthologies are typically carefully selected by a scholar or other expert, who often will write an introduction to the volume and may annotate the texts. 

Browse the stacks to see what piques your interest or check out these additional options:

Exploring Newspapers & Periodical Literature

For the past two centuries or so, much writing about travel and exploration has been published first in the periodical press. Here are some options for identifying and locating collections of magazines.

Primary Sources from Archives and Special Collections

For your presentation assignment, your professor, librarian, and archivist have identified a selection of primary sources related the themes of the course. You might consider a deeper analysis of one or more of these sources for your independent research!

Archives & Special Collections Hours

Spring 2020 update:

The Archives & Special Collections is currently unable to host in-person researchers. If you need assistance or would like to set up a virtual appointment, please email us at

A small selection of digitized material from the Archives & Special Collections is available online 24/7.

Visiting the Archives & Special Collections

In addition to open hours, the Archives & Special Collections are available by appointment.  A few things to be aware of when visiting the Archives & Special Collections:

  • Materials in the Archives & Special Collections do not circulate.  They are available for use only in the Archives & Special Collections.
  • No food or drink is allowed in the Archives & Special Collections.
  • Pencil only, no pens.  We have pencils available if you forget to bring one.
  • Laptops are permitted.
  • Phones and cameras may be used with the permission of the Archivist.

Need Help?

This subject guide highlights only a small portion of the many resources available to you. If you're not finding what you need, don't hesitate to contact Katy!

Katy Curtis, Humanities Librarian
Schedule an appointment
tel: (253) 879-3672
office: Collins Library 140

If you can't find Katy, remember there are several ways to get help with your research

For immediate assistance, connect to our 24/7 Ask a Librarian chat service.