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History 303 - Finding Primary Sources in Archives

Help with archival research for HIST303


Hello! I put together this guide to serve as an introduction (or reintroduction!) to archives and the ways of searching archives to find primary sources and materials to help with your HIST 303 research. 

There is a rapidly expanding world of primary sources online that can help with your research.

There are also many materials that are not yet digitized, and I will give you some information on how we work with students to get access to archives materials that are not digitized yet.

Although the Cal Poly archives may not have materials on your research topic, we have expertise in searching for primary sources and archives materials online and can help with your research on any topic. 

Getting Started

Searching for primary sources at other archives and special collections

  1. Gather your research questions and topics
  2. Learn which archives holds collections related to this topic.
    1. Check footnotes of secondary sources
    2. Search for organizations, individuals, topics, with "Primary sources" or "archives"
  3. See what materials are digitized online.
  4. Meet with Cal Poly's archives staff to get help with your research question and accessing primary sources elsewhere. We can help you find primary sources around the world! Contact us at or set up a (virtual) reference appointment:

Finding primary sources at Cal Poly's archives

Searching for primary sources in Special Collections and Archives

  1. Gather your research questions and topics
  2. Search Cal Poly's archival holdings
  3. Search the library's catalog for published primary sources, 1470s - 2000s.
  4. See what material from Special Collections is digitized online. Learn more here.
  5. Contact the Special Collections and Archives to set up an appointment and request materials.
  6. Meet with archives staff to learn if there are any other collections that would be of interest to you and brainstorm further research ideas. Contact us at or 805-756-2305.