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Although usually secondary sources, dissertations can themselves be primary sources or can be extremely helpful in identifying
and locating primary sources.

They can be edited versions of texts:


     Kathleen Ann Myers, Becoming a nun in seventeenth century Mexico: an edition of the spiritual autobiography of  Maria de San Joseph , (Ph.D., Brown University, 1986)
     "... a critical edition and study of Madre Maria Joseph's (1656-1719) autobiographical manuscript ... ."

     James John Boyce, Cantica Carmelitana: the chants of the Carmelite office (volumes I and II) (Ph.D., New York University, 1984)
     "... [volume II] presents an edition of ten rhymed offices ... ."

They can be used to analyze the influence of a professor on a generation of graduate students and, by extension, on the teaching and writing in a discipline over a period of time.

     EXAMPLE: Analyze the content and methodology of dissertations directed by Howard Lamar.

Because a dissertation is based on original research, its bibliography will contain references to primary sources used by the author. Identifying dissertations written on a topic close to the one of your interest, even though secondary sources themselves, can often lead to manuscripts, diaries, newspapers and other primary material of interest, so dissertations can be valuable resources in the search for primary sources.

In some countries, or at some times in some countries, dissertations are or have been routinely published and are identified through the mechanisms that control books and monographs (see Bibliographic tools for research in history ). However, other bibliographies and indexes specific to dissertations are generally the best way to identify this type of research material.

Indexes and bibliographies of dissertations
Obtaining copies of dissertations

This material is based on the Web site created to support a series of colloquia in historical research offered by the Yale University Library. The initial site was prepared in August 1996 by Suzanne Lorimer, Susanne Roberts, Margaret Powell, George Miles, Fred Musto, Emily Horning, Cesar Rodriguez, Nancy Godleski, Richard Williams, Elizabeth Pauk, and Martha Brogan.

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