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East Asian History: A Library Research Tutorial

A step-by-step guide to choosing a topic and finding sources for research projects on East Asian history.

About Primary Sources

Historians need evidence from the past to make their arguments effectively. The evidence historians use is often referred to as “primary sources.”

Primary sources are the building blocks of historical research - they are the documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation that you will use as evidence to support your interpretation of the past. Often they are created during the time period which is being studied (e.g. correspondence, diaries, newspapers, government documents, art), but they can also be produced later by eyewitnesses or participants (memoirs, oral histories). You may find primary sources in their original format--often in an archive--or reproduced in a variety of ways: published in books, on microfilm, or digitized in a searchable database.

Below are some tips for finding primary sources as well as some examples of online primary source collections relevant to East Asian history.

Tips for Finding Primary Sources

Primary sources are typically organized according to who created them.

When looking for primary sources, think about who would have documented the people, places, and events that interest you, keeping in mind that those documents might be written by participants, outside observers, or even opponents of your subject matter. This guide presents possible primary source materials first by source type, such as one person's papers (letters sent to colleagues, professional work, budgets), newspapers, or documents created by government agencies.

Our research projects might use a wide range of source types, but perhaps are limited to a particular place and time. Thus, this guide also offers further suggestions organized by geographic region.

With primary sources, the possibilities are endless.

This research guide is not a comprehensive list of primary source collections that might be relevant to your topic. Historians are constantly innovating in the way they use traditional sources and finding creative ways to work with new ones.

You are not alone. Ask an expert!

Research with primary sources is a collaborative effort. Experts in your field will know how resources have been used by other historians, and can help you to think creatively about what types of sources to use. Librarians and archivists are skilled at talking through your research project and connecting you to materials in their collections and beyond. And don't forget to consult the bibliographies and citations of other historians to get ideas on what sources to use (and where to find them).


For microfilm collections of Asian newspapers, do a subject search in the library catalog for "Country Name" and "Newspapers" (e.g. Japan newspapers). Many of these titles must be requested from the Center of Research Libraries which can be done directly from the FSU catalog record.

Consider exploring the history of Asia, international relations, and the experience of Asian-Americans through major United States newspapers such as the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. While the New York Times may provide deep coverage of relevant U.S. government policies and politics, the Los Angeles Times may provide better coverage of Pacific coast communities and have more sustained interest events abroad in Asia.

Always keep in mind the perspectives of journalists and their intended readers when using newspapers as primary sources.

For access to more historical newspapers, visit:

Digital Collections

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