Using Primary Sources: An interview with the editor of our new OA e-textbook

Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017) is a celebration of the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books, so there is no better time to tell the world about a path-breaking Open Access publication that Liverpool University Press, the University of Liverpool Library and the Department of History at the University of Liverpool are publishing in partnership with Jisc:

Using Primary Sources: an Open Access teaching and study resource that combines rare archival source materials with high quality peer-reviewed chapters by leading academics

To tell us more about Using Primary Sources, Editorial Director Alison Welsby interviewed Dr Jonathan Hogg, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Liverpool and General Editor of Using Primary Sources:


Thank you Jon for agreeing to this interview. What is Using Primary Sources?

It’s an exciting, accessible and unique e-textbook that aims to help students improve their approach to historical research and writing. As part of the project we have digitised archival materials from Special Collections & Archives here at the University of Liverpool, and used them as the basis of chapters that explain to students how they might research and write about a theme. Each chapter contains an essay based on a specific theme: for instance, Popular Religion, or Social Class. Here, an expert author walks you through how you might approach research on that particular theme, what types of primary source you might select to explore that theme, and how you might integrate primary sources into arguments that you want to make in your coursework.

How can teachers and academics integrate Using Primary Sources into their lectures, seminars and the classroom?

There are lots of ways the textbook can be used. The chapters are not designed to be definitive: the advice offered on conducting and writing up research is intended to be suggestive, which will make for good discussion in class. Tutors and students might talk through the advice that is being offered, and then either build on it, suggest alternative ways to think about problems, or set tasks based on the advice. Also, a great class exercise would be to look at some of the digitised primary source material in detail, encouraging students to think about the different ways we might analyse and interpret sources. We are producing lesson plans in the coming months, so look out for those!

Can you suggest ways a student can use Using Primary Sources to benefit their work?

I would advise students to think about our textbook as a starting point. Students might start by reading a chapter on a theme that relates to something they are currently researching, or whose content relates to an essay they are writing. Then, you should think about the advice that is offered. How well does it relate to the work that you are doing? Are there ways to build on the advice that’s given, perhaps using different sources? Do you need to go away and read some of the secondary material to gain more understanding of the theme? In the end, think about the different ways that you can conduct a strong research project, or explore an essay question, and then develop and plan a core argument using your own analysis of primary sources to back up points within your written work. So, we hope that chapters offer good advice on the research process as well as helping with essay writing.

How does someone access Using Primary Sources?

It’s very easy. Simply follow this link to access the textbook: You will find three volumes arranged chronologically. Then, simple explore the chapters, and read the expertly written essays. Take a look at our Guide if you are unsure how to use the resource.

What can we expect from Using Primary Sources in the future?

We will be publishing over a dozen more chapters in 2017. We are also developing lesson plans for tutors and students, and we want our students to get involved in curating sources online. The best place to check for updates and news is the project’s Twitter account @LivUniSources. We would really appreciate any feedback you may have, so please email us at  to let us know what you think about the textbook! We hope that you enjoy the book.