HIST 409 – Themes in Latin American History 2

Liaison librarian

  • eamon.duffy [at] mcgill.ca (Email) 514-398-4697
  • McGill users only
  • Open access resource
  • Free resource
  • In-library-use only
  • Catalogue record

Finding Secondary Sources



  1. Catalogue
    Search for keywords that describe your resource and/or geographic area.
    Example: guano peru
  2. Examine the subject headings of books that seem most relevant, and use them to find others on the same topic.
  3. To find books at other libaries, select 'Libraries Worldwide' in the menu near the Catalogue's search box.




Finding Primary Sources

***Secondary sources are often the best places to find primary sources. Take a look at the bibliography of the books and articles on your topic, which will point you to useful and important documents from the period you are studying. The author will likely have done a considerable amount of legwork already.***

Searching for primary sources is more difficult than searching for secondary sources, because the search terms you use must be selected differently. While secondary sources have a specific historiographical purpose - i.e. to recount the history of an event, era, etc. - primary sources are useful almost accidentally. An entire secondary source can be devoted to a topic that is treated only as one of many in a primary source. Therefore, it is important to think more broadly when coming up with search terms. For example, working conditions in a guano mine might be noted in a few pages of a 19th century travel diary of Peru. It might be necessary to browse or skim several travelogues of Peru to find relevant sources, since 'guano' will not necessarily be in the title or subject heading of the work.



The following are useful terms found in subject headings in the library catalogue that can be used to locate potential primary sources.  In the advanced search, enter these terms in the 'subject' filed along with terms specific to your topic.

  • Correspondence
  • Description and travel
  • Diaries
  • Personal narratives
  • Sources

Suggested catalogue search strategy




The HathiTrust is a collection of over 10 million digitized books held in major research libraries around the world. Unlike the library catalogue, every book in the HathiTrust is full-text searchable. It is a treasure trove of primary sources. Search using the same subject headings suggested above along with terms specific to your topic.


Suggested HathiTrust search strategy


Government documents


Two important UK and US government document databases provide an official record of these countries' involvement in the extraction/economy/politics of natural resources in Latin America.





McGill has access to many digitized historical newspapers, while many others are available on microfilm.



Center for Research Libraries


McGill is a member of the Center for Research Libraries, which allows you to access to their vast collection of primary source material on Latin America. You can request any item you find in their catalogue be sent to McGill via Interlibrary Loan.


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