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MA 410: History of Mathematics: Finding Books/Primary Sources

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Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources Secondary Sources
  • Information in its original form when it first appears
  • Information has not been published anywhere else, or put into a context, interpreted, filtered, condensed, or evaluated by anyone else.


  • eyewitness accounts
  • original research (the first publication of a scientific study)
  • letters between two people
  • a diary
  • historical documents such as the US Constitution
  • Information that restates, rearranges, examines, or interprets information from one or more primary sources


  • newspaper or magazine articles that draw upon multiple eyewitness accounts or previous news coverage of an event
  • articles reporting on a scientific study published elsewhere
  • a review of a book


Remember that for many mathematics primary documents, such as Euclid's and Archimedes' and Newton's writings, we are not going to have the original document. However, we may have reprints, or the documents may be included in an anthology. These kinds of works are acceptable in History of Mathematics.


To find books and government documents in USA Libraries' collections, use SOUTHcat: USA Libraries' Catalog.

  • Catalog tips and tricks:
    • Keyword searches – use quotation marks to hold phrases together ("linear algebra")
    • Truncation – use ? after the root of a word to find all its variants (math? finds math, maths, mathematics...)
    • Browse the Subject(s) field in records to find the right words for searches. (Example: Try doing a keyword search for math? history then look at the subject(s) field in several records. You’ll see that the subject term is "Mathematics -- History." Click the subject heading to find more records with this subject.)
  • Revise and refine your searches.
  • Watch for repeating call numbers and browse stacks in that area.
  • Pay attention to the Location and Status fields. You will need this information to locate the item in the library. The Location field will also tell you whether or not a book can be checked out. A book that's shelved in Marx Library Reference cannot usually be checked out, while one in Marx Library Bookstacks can.

Primary Sources/Books Owned by the University Library