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RELG201: American Christianities

The assignment: Write a researched essay on a topic relevant to what you are studying in this class. You will need both primary and secondary sources for the final essay.

Primary Sources - Secondary Sources - Citations - Questions?

Primary Sources

The most challenging part of your research for this essay will likely be working with primary sources. What "counts" as a primary source for your topic, and where should you go to find such a source? The steps and tips below will get you started.

1. Start by simply thinking about your topic. What would a primary source look like for this topic? Try describing that source to yourself briefly.

As you do this, remember: a primary source is generally considered a first-hand account. For example, if you're writing about a religious movement, a primary source might be an account by someone who participated in the movement or observed it at the time.

2. Consider where such a source might be available for you to consult it.

Newspaper or periodical articles will most likely come from one of Augustana's databases (see below). Many other primary sources -- including letters, diaries, sermons, etc. by prominent people -- are likely to be collected in book form. Still other primary sources from the nineteenth century and earlier have been digitized and made available in free online collections; one such collection that may be useful to this class is linked below.

3. Based on your answers to #1 and #2, choose one or more of the resources below to search for a primary source.

Here are some suggestions:

ALiCat & I-Share
As you know, ALiCat & I-Share give you access to books at Augustana and in libraries across Illinois. There are two different ways you might use these book catalogs to find primary sources:

  • If you need the work of a major historical figure (someone as prominent as Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther King, Jr., for example), you may find an entire book by the person in question. Search the person as an author, or search the title of the book you want.
  • If you want a collection of primary sources on a topic, go to the Advanced Search screen and add the word "sources" to your search as a subject. (It helps if the topic you are searching is relatively broad.) This works because the subject headings in ALiCat & I-Share use the word "sources" whenever the book in question includes primary sources. (Example: great awakening AND sources)

American Periodicals Series (Library website --> Databases --> Databases A-Z)
This is a full-text database of American magazines and journals published between 1740 and 1940.

Historical New York Times (Library website --> Databases --> Databases A-Z)
Full-text of the New York Times, from 1851-2009. For more recent NYT articles, search Lexis-Nexis (which is also in the Databases A-Z list).

Historical Chicago Tribune (Library website --> Databases --> Databases A-Z)
Full-text of the Chicago Tribune, from 1849-1991. For more recent Tribune articles, search Newsstand Expanded (which is also in the Databases A-Z list).

North American Slave Narratives -
This site, which is sponsored by the libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provides the texts of nineteenth century slave narratives. Browse by author to find narratives by specific people. To find sections of slave narratives that address particular religious themes, click "Guide to Religious Content in Slave Narratives" on the main page. (Unlike the resources listed above, which Augustana pays for, this site is available free on the Internet.)

4. Still have questions? Ask a librarian! See more in the "Questions?" section below.

Secondary Sources

For this project, secondary sources will be a bit easier to address than primary sources. You should, of course, use ALiCat and I-Share to find secondary sources as well as primary sources. Order your I-Share books early, because they take a few days to arrive!

For journal articles, consult these databases (Library website --> Databases --> Databases A-Z):

ATLA Religion Index
This is the library's most important database for the study of religion. Everyone should use ATLA for this project.

America: History & Life
Because this course focuses on religious traditions' engagement with American politics, articles on American history (as it relates to religion) may also prove useful. America: History & Life is Augustana's U.S. history database; consult it if you need articles beyond what you find in ATLA.

JSTOR is a full-text database that covers a variety of subject areas. I recommend going to the Advanced Search screen and limiting to particular subjects before you search.


Use Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) to cite your sources. Online guides to CMS are available here:

Libarary website --> Citing Sources (under "Research Tools")


You are welcome to talk to me with questions about your project. My email address is, and I work at the research help desk off and on throughout the week.

Approach any Augustana librarian for help at the research help desk: in-person, or by phone (309-794-7206), email (, or the red "Ask an Augie librarian" box on every library webpage.

You may also request an in-depth research appointment with an Augustana librarian here (scroll down to find the online form).

Page created by Stefanie Bluemle, librarian for history, religion, and philosophy. Updated September 2015.