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SSI2-104: Travel Writing and the Other

Selecting Your Primary Source Material

Selecting your primary source text(s) is one of the most important decisions you will make as you undertake this research project. You will want to spend significant time exploring which documents are available that are related to your topic. Try to give yourself sufficient time to explore multiple options. You will want to choose a primary source that invites numerous questions related to the theme of the course and that is rich and complex enough to allow for extended analysis and interpretation. 

It's a good idea to explore more than one possibility for your primary source; try to identify at least three possibilities and then browse through all three before making your final choice.

Each module below provides an introduction to one method for identifying primary source materials; you may wish to explore all options.

Consulting a Subject Encyclopedia

Subject encyclopedias are specialized reference resources (tertiary sources) that are designed to be consulted early on in a research project. The entries are written by scholars and typically provide an overview of both the topic and the ways that scholars have interpreted this topic. Most entries include a carefully selected list of secondary sources that would be good to consult as a next step. In some cases, such as with the encyclopedia listed below, a list of primary source materials is also provided.

Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia offers entries based on:

  • geographical locations 
  • journey types and routes (big game hunting; religious pilgrimages, etc);
  • genres (tourist guidebooks, missionary narratives, etc.)
  • transportation type (balloon, dogsledding, train, etc.)

There are also entries on famous (or infamous) world travelers and larger themes and issues (such as ethics of travel writing). Each entry includes a listing of primary sources. Once you identify some choices, you'll need to go to Collins Library Primo Search to find a copy.

Using Library of Congress Subject Headings

Books in Primo are assigned Library of Congress subject headings. There are several subject headings that will help you identify primary source materials:

[geographic location] -- Description and travel.

Travelers writings, [nationality of writer or geographic location]

[geographic location] -- Discovery and exploration -- Sources

Click on any of the links below to see lists of books that share that subject heading.


One way to search the catalog for fictional works is to select a subject--any subject, really--and then add the word fiction after it. Although this method is not always successful, it's usually worth a try. These subject headings may help you identify novels that explore the theme of travel. 


You can also use Primo to search for works by a specific author. Below is a list of travel writers arranged by continent that you can explore to identify potential primary texts. This list is only a starting point! Also consider searching for authors and works that you find in tertiary sources or that have come up in your reading for the course.

Browsing Anthologies and Collections

Anthologies or collections of travel writing can give you a sense of the range of choices available to you.  The contents of anthologies are typically carefully selected by a scholar or other expert, who often will write an introduction to the volume and may annotate the texts. 

If you'd like to browse the stacks to see what piques your interest, try the second floor of the library, call numbers G1-600. Here are some additional options:

Cambridge Companions

Cambridge Companions are a series of authoritative essay collections that synthesize the most important aspects of a topic. Each volume is edited by a leading scholar in the field and offers essays written by experts. The Companions below are especially relevant for your research project for this class.

Exploring Periodical Literature

For the past two centuries or so, much travel writing has been published first in the periodical press. Here are some options for identifying and locating collections of magazines.

Online Reference Collections

Not sure where to look? Each of these online collections will introduce you to a wealth of dictionaries and encyclopedias.