Using Primary and Secondary Sources for Your Research
Research Materials and Citations
When composing material for inclusion in this volume, we ask that you use relevant and trustworthy secondary materials as the basis for any historical claims you make. In this case, “relevant and trustworthy” doesn’t mean that you need only cite academic monographs or scholarly journal articles–although it’s fine if you do so. You are also welcome to base claims on facts included in reputable educational or general-interest sources. The Recommended Resources section below includes educational and general interest websites that may be useful in this respect.
Likewise, you are welcome to base some of your claims on published in the late 1840s through 1860s. Which edge of the spectrum you lean in this range will depend on whether you’re making a claim about Wilkie Collins’s serial readers (1859 to early 1860s) or the characters in The Woman in White (set in 1849-50).
We don’t expect you to always find primary sources from the exact years in question, but we trust you to use your best judgment when deciding whether a primary source article from, say, the year 1850 persuasively captures something relevant to Collins’s readers ten years later. To draw an example from the twenty-first century, if someone were writing about my own day-to-day life, it wouldn’t be appropriate to use photos from catalogs published in 2009 to represent my attire. (Or at least, I hope it wouldn’t. I try to keep up with the times.) However, if a writer’s statement was carefully phrased, it could well be appropriate for them to use an article about the economy that was published in 2009 to provide context for my recent experience. This is because the 2008 recession was an influential period where I live in the US.
At this point, you may be asking “What doesn’t count as ‘relevant and trustworthy?’” There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but there are general guidelines you can follow. The first step in assessing a source is to ask yourself what motivation the creators may have for producing this content and what expertise they might be drawing from. A general-interest or clickbait article you find online may provide accurate information, but its approach may be too general to support the kind of claim that would help your readers engage with this project.
The British literary world looked very different in 1830, 1860, and 1890–just as it did in 1930, 1960, and 1990–so a source that doesn’t include any chronological distinctions will probably not be precise enough in its claims to suit your purpose. Look too for sources that include traceable citations of their own. If a resource doesn’t include reliable citations, be wary of using it unless you have another compelling reason to believe it is authoritative.
Citing fellow 19th-Century Open Pedagogy Project contributors:
Note that if you are building off of a point that another contributor made in the margins of this text, you should also cite them by name or Hypothes.is username. Use this citation format:
Annotator’s Username. Annotation in “Title of the Book Section.” Title of Critical Edition. First name Last name of any contributors, Version, Publisher, Publication date of annotation. URL of annotation.
Salmon, Naomi. Annotation in “The Annotation Layer, A How-To Guide,” The Woman in White (Grangerized Edition), Naomi Salmon et al., The 19th Century Open Pedagogy Project, 29 October 2018, https://hyp.is/4D9I-tuBEeipAoPgEDDNbQ/wisc.pb.unizin.org/wiwgrangerized/chapter/the-annotation-layer/.
Educational / Informative
- The Victorian Web
- Nineteenth Century Scholarship Online (NINES)
- It’s ok to cite Wikipedia in this project, but if you do so, you’re encouraged to acknowledge both the Wikipedia page in question and the citation that Wikipedia page includes for the point you’ve referenced.
- In general, it’s a best practice to go to the source that the Wikipedia authors cite rather than citing Wikipedia itself. However, these sources may be easier or more difficult for you to access depending on whether you are part of an institution with a large library budget. Please feel no obligation to shoulder paywall fees in order to contribute to this project. See below for resources you can use if you hit a dead end.
- The Central Online Victorian Educator (COVE)
- The British Library’s Victorian Britain portal has a vibrant collection of articles and media related to daily life in the Victorian period.
Accessing Primary Sources
- HathiTrust is a well-organized archive that includes many primary sources from the nineteenth century. While there are restrictions on how you’re able to re-host some content from the collection,
- The Internet Archive – This archive contains a number of public domain texts. It is not as easy to navigate as HathiTrust, but it contains some copies of public domain texts that HathiTrust does not.
- There are additional historical newspaper databases listed in the Wikipedia List of Online Newspaper Archives.
- Dickens Journals Online
- The Reading Like a Victorian project provides interactive timelines outlining many of the serial novels that emerged in Britain during the nineteenth century. Of particular relevance to this project: The 1859 to 1861 Stack: a collection of novels that ran around and alongside The Woman in White during its serial run.
Lists of additional primary source databases
- The Michigan State Library has excellent library research guides for Victorian research. These include a list of free websites with informative content and/or primary sources about the Victorian period,
- The Wikipedia List of Online Newspaper Archives is capacious and extends far beyond nineteenth-century Britain.
Accessing Paywalled Secondary Sources
Browser Plugins: UnPaywall, the Open Access Button, and LazyScholar are internet browser extensions that search for legal, publicly available versions of academic articles. They can’t find every article, but they can often find preprints, post-prints, or articles legally hosted on authors’ institutional repositories.
Library Resources: If you’re having trouble locating a source, your library may be able to help you access it. Often, libraries even provide a virtual chat resource that you can use to ask a local librarian for assistance.
- provides a detailed overview of ways to access public library repositories as well as online databases in his article “You’re a Researcher Without a Library: What Do You Do?“
Humanities Commons: The Humanities Commons includes a growing collection of open-access articles, monographs, and other media. This collection includes some scholarly work and other media related to nineteenth-century studies. Scholars of all types are welcome to contribute, so it’s also a place you can share your work with others.
Reaching Out to Academic Journal Authors: Some academic journals don’t allow scholars to host the journal articles they have written outside of the journal’s webpage, but the journals do permit authors to share their work with people who ask them individually.
If you’re interested in reaching out, it’s a good idea to be polite, direct, and succinct. Aim for a brief email that clearly expresses your reason for contacting them. (Avoid describing the contents of your writing project in so much detail that the author might misinterpret your intention as a request for them to weigh in on your claims.)
Remember that the author might be traveling for a conference or a family responsibility and that it might be a particularly hectic time during their semester. If they don’t reply promptly or at all, it’s more likely than not that this was an unintended slight.
Dear Dr. Brontë,
My name is Rosa Budd, and I am an undergraduate student at Gradgrind College. I am writing to ask whether you would be willing to share a copy of your paper “Brooding and Rude-ing: Morose Masculinity in Nineteenth-Century Britain” with me.
I am researching for a paper about representations of second marriages in Victorian novels and am especially interested in your article’s discussion of Jane Eyre. However, our library at Gradgrind College does not provide access to the journal Victorian Fiction from 1847 or to databases that hold that journal. In many cases, journals permit scholars to share articles they have written with people who contact them, and I was hoping that you might be willing to do so as well.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have on the matter, as would Professor Charles Dickens (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Additional Scholarly Resources
Ablow, Rachel, ed. The Feeling of Reading: Affective Experience & Victorian Literature. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010. OCN: 695840694
Altick, Richard D. The English Common Reader: a Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900. University of Chicago Press, 1957. DOI: 10.2307/2573838; OCN: 1087729384.
Beetham, Margaret, “Women and the Consumption of Print.” Women and Literature in Britain, 1800-1900. Ed. Joanne Shattock. Cambridge University Press, 2001. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511519185.001.
Bernstein, Susan David. Roomscape: Women Writers In the British Museum From George Eliot to Virginia Woolf. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. OCN: 891658546.
Boos, Florence S. Memoirs of Victorian Working-Class Women: The Hard Way Up. Palgrave McMillan, 2017. Print. OCN: 992781207.
Brake, Laurel. Print in Transition, 1850–1910: Studies in Media and Book History. Palgrave, 2001. DOI: 10.1057/9780230005709.
Brantlinger, Patrick. The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy In Nineteenth-century British Fiction. Indiana University Press, 1998.
Colclough, Stephen. Consuming Texts: Readers and Reading Communities, 1695-1870. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. DOI: 10.1057/9780230590540
Flint, Kate. The Woman Reader, 1837-1914. Clarendon Press, 1993. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198121855.001.0001
Gilbert, Pamela K. A Companion to Sensation Fiction. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. DOI: 10.1002/9781444342239
Griest, Guinevere L. Mudie’s Select Library and the Victorian Novel. Indiana University Press, 1970. OCN: 16203315.
Gruber Garvey, Ellen. “Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Appropriation: Scrapbooks and Extra-Illustration.” Common-Place, vol. 7, no. 3, 2007.
—. “Scissoring and Scrapbooks: Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating.” New Media, 1740-1915, MIT Press, 2003, pp. 207–28. OCN: 644747199
Huett, Lorna. “Among the Unknown Public: Household Words, All the Year Round, and the Mass-Market Weekly Periodical in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol. 38, 2005, pp. 61-82. DOI: 10.1353/vpr.2005.0006.
Hughes, Linda K, and Michael Lund. The Victorian Serial. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991. OCN: 956748824
Jordan, John O. and Robert L. Patten. Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing & Reading Practices. Cambridge University Press, 1995. OCN: 842508622
Joshi, Priya. In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel In India. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. OCN: 827481448
Law, Graham. Serializing Fiction in the Victorian Press. Palgrave, 2000. OCN: 1047671348
Myers, Robin, and M Harris. Serials and Their Readers, 1620-1914. St Paul’s Bibliographies, 1993. OCN: 832245165
Leighton, Mary Elizabeth and Lisa Surridge. “The Plot Thickens: Toward a Narratological Analysis of Illustrated Serial Fiction in the 1860s.” Victorian Studies 51.1 (2008): 65-101.
Phegley, Jennifer. Educating the Proper Woman Reader: Victorian Family Literary Magazines and the Cultural Health of the Nation. Ohio State University Press, 2004. OCN: 690293247
Price, Leah. How to Do Things with Books In Victorian Britain. Princeton University Press, 2012. OCN: 879523542
Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. OCN: 974179302
Rose, Jonathan. “Arriving at a History of Reading,” Historically Speaking (January 2004).
Rubery, Matthew. The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction After the Invention of the News. Oxford University Press, 2009. OCN: 951118431
Sanders, Valerie. “Women, Fiction, and the Marketplace.” Women and Literature in Britain, 1800-1900. Ed. Joanne Shattock. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. OCN: 958557166
Steinlight, Emily. “Anti-Bleak House: Advertising and the Victorian Novel. ” Narrative 14.2 (2006): 132-162.
Turner, Mark. “Telling of My Weekly Doings”: The Material Culture of the Victorian Novel.” In A Concise Companion to the Victorian Novel. Edited by Francis O’Gorman, Blackwell, 2005. pp. 113–133. OCN: 848860854.
Wynne, Deborah. The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001. OCN: 956749754
Orlowitz, Jake. “You’re a Researcher Without a Library: What Do You Do?” Medium, 15 November 2017, https://medium.com/a-wikipedia-librarian/youre-a-researcher-without-a-library-what-do-you-do-6811a30373cd. Permalink: perma.cc/PLN4-THTX.
Caulfield, Mike. Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. Pressbooks, 2017, webliteracy.pressbooks.com/. Accessed 12 April 2019. (CC-BY).
- The open-licensed textbook Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers provides guidance for students interested in understanding the different kinds of bias or inaccuracy that can slip into web content. ↵
In the context of this project, primary sources are texts or other pieces of media that were published during the nineteenth century.
Jake Orlowitz is the founder of the Wikipedia Library, an organization that works to improve Wikipedia articles' quality and scope by helping volunteer Wikipedia editors access journals and databases that may be under a paywall.