Researching the history of wars and their broader social context is similar to researching other history topics. You will need to consider what other historians have discovered about the past by reading secondary sources, usually in the form of books and journal articles. For more on finding scholarship written by historians, visit the main History Research Guide.
Studying history also requires analyzing and interpreting 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 you are studying (e.g. correspondence, diaries, newspapers, government documents, art), but they can also be produced later by eyewitnesses or participants (e.g. memoirs, oral histories). You may find primary sources in their original format in archives, or reproduced in a variety of ways, such as published in books, on microfilm, or digitized in a searchable database.
This guide to researching war and society is organized by conflict. Each page of this guide offers a selection of primary sources relevant to the conflict and its social context.
The primary sources suggested are not an exhaustive list. If you do not find the types of sources you need to answer your specific research question, consider sending an email or scheduling an appointment with me for help.
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 just a selection of possible primary source materials organized by war or conflict. Each will include a variety of source types such as personal papers, newspapers, or documents created by government agencies. When using a source, consider how its author and intended audience influences the perspective on historical events.
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).