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A Research Guide: From the Secondary Source to the Primary Source

American Revolution Sources

The Battle of Bunker Hill is just one event within a series of events known collectively as the American Revolution. The sources below will provide you with information about the American Revolution. The dictionaries and encyclopedias listed below offer similar information to what you would find in the Dictionary of American History but, instead of being all encompassing, they only contain entries related specifically to the American Revolution. In this section you will also be introduced to a new type of source - a bibliography, which is a reference tool used to index citations to a variety of sources on a particular subject.

At this point, it is necessary to place the Battle of Bunker Hill within the context of the American Revolution. As you move along in your research, you will find out about other events that happened both before and after the Battle of Bunker Hill. You may discover that you need to learn about these related events in the course of your research. The sources in this section will be helpful for locating quick factual summaries of these related topics.


Encyclopedia of the American Revolution

Similar Sources to Consult:
The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution
The Encyclopedia of Colonial and Revolutionary America

The Encyclopedia of the American Revolution is arranged by subject and contains information specifically related to the American Revolution. It includes entries for people, places, battles, and terms associated with the war, including summaries and bibliographies. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution comprises a series of chapters on broad topics related to the events of the American Revolution and features a section of biographies of individuals "whose personal decisions made the events of the time"1 .


Bibliographies are reference tools that are often passed up because they don't seem to offer much. It is true that bibliographies can be confusing to use, but once you understand how to navigate them, they become a vital resource.

Revolutionary America: A Bibliography

Similar Sources to Consult:
American Independence, The Growth of an Idea: A Bibliographical Study of American Political Pamphlets, 1764-1776
War of the American Revolution: Selective Annotated Bibliography

Revolutionary America is a two-volume bibliography that provides citations to secondary and published primary source material related to the American Revolution. There are contemporary accounts -- like printed letters and reports -- as well as secondary sources -- including journal articles and books. This book only provides citations to materials; it is up to you to locate the actual book, report, or journal article that is listed.

The best way to navigate this source is through the index. The index is located at the end of the second volume and is alphabetically arranged. If you look up the term Bunker Hill in the index, you will find a list of entry numbers, which represent citations listed within the two volumes. The entry numbers are listed in chronological order. You may also want to browse the table of contents of Revolutionary America. It has a thorough outline of the subjects covered in the bibliography and you can use the terms to search for materials in other sources like electronic databases and catalogs.

In addition to the terms listed under Bunker Hill, there are a number of sub-divisions of specific subjects related to the term Bunker Hill. Each term is listed separately with a list of entry numbers. Let's have a closer look:

Bunker Hill, Battle of, (1775)
About, 5730, 5801, 5827-61, 5908, 14435
British army, 5836, 5855
Casualties, 5806

From the entries given in the index, you can see that there is a span of numbers grouped together, which is a clear indication that there is a section of Bunker Hill materials all listed together. If you go to the first entry listed in that span of entries (5827), you will see that there is indeed a section labeled, Bunker Hill, which is then subdivided further into two categories -- Contemporary Sources and Secondary Sources. Contemporary accounts are materials written during the time an event took place. A secondary source is any published material written about a subject at any time period.

Each entry contains a citation to a source of information like a journal article, book or printed letters. The citation contains information about the author, the title, and the date of the publication of the source. Pay close attention to what the source is and bear in mind that although something may have been published in the nineteenth century, you can usually get a copy of the material through an interlibrary loan program. Again keep track of the citations on note cards. You will need these citations to locate actual copies of the journal article or book later in the research process.

Note: You will find many citations to the Collections and Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Both of these publications are described later in this guide [see Resources Published by the Massachusetts Historical Society].


Exhibit catalogs and checklists are useful for locating both brief pieces of information and images of primary source materials related to a particular subject or time period. The function of an exhibit catalog is evident from its name - it is a record of the content, themes and narrative of an exhibit that, at one time, was on display. A checklist is created to list all materials related to a specific topic or category from a particular collection. For example, American Revolution in Drawings and Prints, documents the collection of original contemporary pictures related to the American Revolution held by the Library of Congress.

Paul Revere's Boston, 1735-1818 - Exhibit catalog, Dept. of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.[Exhibition, April 18-October 12, 1975].

Similar Sources to Consult:
American Revolution in Drawings and Prints: A Checklist The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution
Witness To America's Past: Two Centuries of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Society

Paul Revere's Boston is full of paintings, letters, broadsides, museum objects, newspapers, and prints, all of which are described and duly noted. The catalog contains images of actual items used, written, read or seen by the people of Boston at the time of the American Revolution. Although there isn't a systematic way to examine or use an exhibit catalog, you should scan the volumes and extract any interesting images or information that may be useful to your project. Pay close attention to the descriptions and notes for each item; the catalog description includes information about who owns the item and provides references for where you can obtain additional information about the item.


Atlases include maps, charts, graphs, timelines and statistical information. They can contain information by subject, by time or by region. Historical atlases are a blend of geography and history and connect the events and physical landscape of the past with that of the present.

Atlas of Early American History: The Revolutionary Era, 1760-1790

Similar Sources to Consult:
Historical Atlas of Massachusetts
Historical Atlas of the United States

The Atlas of Early American History contains maps, graphs, charts, and statistical information to illustrate facts and ideas about the political, economic and social and physical landscape during the American Revolution. It has both a chronological and topical sequence and contains contemporary maps and sources throughout. Each section is followed by a bibliography of sources to consult for further exploration of a topic.

Research Activity -- Looking at the Larger Community

You will notice that a number of individuals who wrote and received the documents used in the online exhibit, The Decisive Day Has Come: The Battle of Bunker Hill, aren't mentioned in the entries of the Encyclopedia of the American Revolution or the Dictionary of American History. A general topical reference source, like the Dictionary of the American Revolution, provides brief overviews and only mentions those individuals who played a significant role in the actual military engagement. General reference sources won't provide you with the details about the individuals who lived at the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill, who were witnesses to the event, who participated as soldiers, or who were involved in the formation of government. You will need to consult both General Biographical Sources and Biographical Sources by Subject as well as secondary and primary source materials to obtain the most detailed account of the Battle, and its origin and impact within the society.

1 The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, Introduction, page xv.

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