I have often been asked, when talking about 1775, how does one go about finding the source material. Well, it’s labor intensive, to be sure…
The easiest way, whenever you are starting out on a research project of this magnitude, is to read as many secondary sources as you can. I was mostly interested in well-researched books, and I started with the modern ones, since they were the easiest to find. The well-researched books generally stand out from the others if you only look to their endnotes. If they had no notes, I set it aside in the “low priority” pile. But for those books whose notes were thorough and well-referenced, citing original letters and the like along with which archive or book of republished letters they were found in… well those books were like goldmines, as they served as a roadmap to discovering the key sources for my own work. No point in redisocvering what someone else has already found! Sort of like re-inventing the wheel just for the fun of it.
The next step was to follow every footnote to its source on the topics of importance to my 1775. Talk about mind-numbing research! But the truth is, I often found myself hunting for the whereabouts of the original source material as a way to justify my procastination from writing. At least this way I could say I was making progress.
I basically read everything I could on the events of 1775, including many esoteric and hard-to-find old books. Some of these esoteric secondary sources were on Google Books, others were on Archive.org. But many were especially rare and never (or not yet) digitized. However, thanks to Worldcat.org, you can search across nearly every major library out there. In some cases, I was looking for a book that only existed in a handful of libraries in the entire United States, and rarely those libraries offered such rare books via the Inter-Library Loan system. So in these cases, I had to write the holding library and beg photocopies of photos of the pages I wanted to see, which I was pleased to discover, nearly every library was willing to do, often for free.
Eventually I had eaten through all of the secondary sources and discovered the whereabouts of the key source material. Some of this source material is online, much of it free, and you can sit at your computer in your pajamas and sift through it in the comfort of your own home (or in my case, apartment). In many cases, however, the research had to be conducted in-person. Where I live in Los Angeles, I spent much time at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Library and the Los Angeles Central Library (in the dreary corners of the basement where they hid their history and geneology department). But the most important research was of course in Boston and, of all places, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Next time: a discussion on the various archives and the experience of holding in your bear hands the letters of such famous Americans as Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren.
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