F&M College Library

CNX 247: Cross-Examining the Witness

Historical context

Before you begin your search for witness accounts:

Know the historical context of the event

  • Who were the major actors?
  • What was the nature of the event?
  • Where did it occur?
  • When did it occur

Consider the language used to describe/talk about the event at the time it occurred!

  • For example: today, we speak of The Boston Tea Party, which occurred in 1773.
    • However, that language was not used to describe, or name, the event, until the 1820s!
    • Prior to then, it was known as "The Destruction of the Tea." 

Now that you know the historical context, and have acknowledged that the language we use today to talk about an event very well might not be the language used at the time of the event, you are ready to consider search strategies and select which library resources to search for witness accounts!

Reference Sources for Background Information

Search strategies

Here is an assortment of search strategies to employ when searching the library's DISCOVER system and specialized databases:

Use quotation marks to indicate you are searching for a phrase:

  • "summer of love"
  • "salem witch trials"
  • "arab spring"

Use the connector AND to search for different words that describe your event:

  • boston AND tea
  • selma AND montgomery
  • women AND suffrage AND "united states"

Combine your search language about your event with specific words to find primary sources when searching DISCOVER for books:

  • "nigerian civil war" AND (testimon* OR interview OR memoir OR "oral history")
  • hiroshima AND (witness OR "first-person" OR autobiography)

NOTE: when searching DISCOVER for books, you could search for your event AND all of the primary source words -- copy/paste the following parenthetical statement into your DISCOVER search in combination with your topic:

your topic AND (interview OR testimon* OR "personal narrative" OR diar* OR letter OR correspondence OR memoir OR autobiography OR "oral history" OR witness OR "first-person")


Primary source words

  • interview
  • testimon*
  • "personal narrative"
  • diar*
  • letter
  • correspondence
  • memoir
  • autobiography
  • "oral history"
  • witness
  • "first-person"

CNX 247 Librarian

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Lisa Stillwell
Shadek-Fackenthal Library #204