Where to Start
Concepts, Definitions, Strategies
There are many ways to go about doing historical research, and you can expect to employ several strategies to find the material you need. As you begin formulating your thesis, you’ll want to identify the main currents of thought on your topic. Which historians have taken up this topic and what are their main arguments? How has our understanding of the subject changed with shifts in the predominant methodologies and theoretical perspectives in the historical profession? In answering these questions, you will use secondary sources (the published work of scholars specializing in the topic).
Secondary literature includes scholarly books, articles, and essays (both analyses by contemporary scholars as well as older scholarly analyses), surveys, criticism, comparative studies, reference sources, and works on theory and methodology. When we talk about secondary sources, most of the time we are referring to the published scholarship on a subject, rather than the supplemental material (bibliographies, encyclopedias, handbooks, etc.). Secondary literature is published both in book form and as articles in periodicals, either in print or digital format. (Digital format includes both reproduction of print material or original e-text.)
To identify secondary literature, you can do subject searches in the online catalog (to get books) or subject searches in article databases (which may list books as well as articles from journals); you can consult standard published bibliographies (e.g., the American Historical Association Guide to Historical Literature) and specialized bibliographies (e.g., Bibliography of the History of Medicine of the United States and Canada).
You can also look for review essays, in which a historian who specializes in the subject analyzes recent scholarship; you may find more lengthy historiographical treatments of the topic published as chapters in collections, journal articles, or even monographs; you can read about the topic in a subject encyclopedia and look at the bibliography at the end of the entry; you can find a major work of scholarship on the topic and follow up on the sources used by the author (footnote tracking).
Most of the time you will find the secondary literature you need by using the online catalog, the appropriate article databases, and a subject encyclopedia or bibliography.
If you are doing original research, you will need to identify primary sources, in addition to the secondary literature on the subject. Primary sources can be published or unpublished (archival).
Published primary source material covers a wide range of publications, including first-person accounts, memoirs, diaries, letters, newspapers, statistical reports, government documents, commentary in periodicals contemporaneous with the phenomenon you are investigating, reports of associations, organizations and institutions, maps, even iconographic material (e.g., photographic images, posters, advertising images) or literary works. What constitutes a primary source depends in part on how you have formulated your research topic.
The UIUC Library also has some unpublished primary source material (archives and manuscripts), including personal papers and the records of certain organizations and associations, but this is a relatively small body of material compared to the abundance of published primary sources held by the Library.
You can identify published primary sources through the online catalog and by using bibliographies. You can also look at secondary literature on your topic to see what sources other scholars have used in their research.
Where to Start
Once you have defined your research topic, you need to decide what type of material you are looking for. Do you want books? Journal articles? Primary or secondary sources, or both? The type of material you need determines where you should begin your search.
The UIUC Library online catalog and card catalog contain records for books and journals. Use these when you are looking for books on a topic (subject searching), or when you have a citation to a specific book or journal. The catalog will lead you to secondary sources and to published primary sources.
The online article databases and the older print periodical indexes provide citations to articles and, in the case of some of the online article databases, links to the actual text of the articles. These online databases are subject-based, and some of them include citations to books as well as articles.
Use the online article databases when you want to find citations to articles on a topic. For the older, print indexes, and for some of the online article databases, once you compile a list of articles on your topic, you will need to search the journal titles in the online catalog in order to determine their call number and location (departmental library, such as History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, or the main bookstacks). However, many of the article databases will include links to the full text of the articles.
Types of Published Sources for Historical Research and Where to Find Them
|Type of Source||Primary or Secondary?||Where to look||Example||How to get there|
|Books||Secondary or primary||UIUC Online catalog,
|Fasce, Ferdinando, An American Family: The Great War and Corporate Culture in America
Ohio State University Press, 2002).
|http://www.library.uiuc.edu (“UIUC Library
Catalog”) or http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr
|Scholarly journal articles||Usually secondary||Online article databases and print periodical indexes
(America: History & Life, Historical Abstracts, Infotrac)
|Bachin, Robin Faith, “At the
Nexus of Labor and Leisure:
Baseball, Nativism, and the
1919 Black Sox Scandal,” Journal of Social History, v. 36, no. 4 (2003), pp. 941-962.
(type name of database in search box or browse databases by subject)
|General interest or popular magazine articles||Secondary at time of publication but primary
as historical document
|Online article database andPrint periodical indexes
(Reader’s Guide, Infotrac, American Periodical Series)
|“All in the Day’s Work: Bolshevik Activities in the U.S.,” New Republic, v. 18, pp. 372-73 (April 19, 1919), or “How the Russian bolshevik agent does business in New York City,” Literary Digest, v. 61, pp. 60-63 (May 17, 1919).||http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr
(type name of database in search box or browse databases by subject)
|Newspapers||Usually primary||Newspaper databases, UIUC Onlinecatalog, UIUC newspaper database||“House Balks at Immigrant Bill:
Senate Proposals to Exclude Negroes and Admit Belgians are Rejected,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 8, 1915, p. 4.
(type name of database in search box)
http://www.library.uiuc.edu/nex/newsform.php (enter search terms in form)
|Memoirs, diaries, correspondence||Primary||UIUC Online catalog, Digital text collections||Nurses at the Front: Writing the Wounds of the Great War, edited by Margaret Higonnet (2001). (anthology of reprinted war sketches)||http://www.library.uiuc.edu and http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr|
|Reference books||Secondary or tertiary||UIUC Online catalog, referencesection in departmental libraries||Encyclopedias, bibliographies, biographical dictionaries, e.g., Encyclopedia of American Social History, 3 vols. (1993) or Dictionary of American History, 10 vols. (2003).||http://www.library.uuc.edu
http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr (browse) Browse shelves in departmental library,
such as History, Philosophy and
Reports of organizations,
Statistical reports, Legal cases and decisions
|Primary||UIUC Online catalog,
Statistical and legal databases
(Legaltrac, Hein Online, Lexis/Nexis)
|The Race Riots: Biennial Report, 1918-1919 and Official Record of Inquests on the Victims of the Race Riots of July and August, 1919 (Chicago, 1919).||http://www.library.uiuc.edu
posters, maps, advertisements
|Primary||UIUC Online catalog, Specialized databases||Cataloged maps, digital maps, digital images of poster and advertisements, digitized photographs||http://www.library.uiuc.edu (maps, collections of reproduced photographs)
Use the online catalog to do a subject search for books or to find out where a particular book or journal is located in the Library
Books and journals are organized in the library by subject. Each item is assigned one or more subject headings and a unique call number. Subject headings are standardized terms from the Library of Congress. The call number is based on the Dewey Decimal Classification.
Why bother with subject headings in the online catalog when you can do keyword searching?
It’s true that you can find sources on a topic by doing keyword searches. But if you limit yourself to keyword searching, you are likely to miss important material on your topic that uses other terms. If you only need two or three books, you can probably find what you need by doing keyword searches, but if you are doing historical research, you can’t afford to miss critical material on your topic. For a comprehensive subject search, search with subject headings as well as keywords.
A good way to identify subject headings for a topic is to do a keyword search in the online catalog using terms you think describe the topic and try to identify a few relevant books. Look at the full record for those books to see what subject headings were used, then do another search on those headings.
As a rule of thumb, use fairly broad headings, as well as the specific ones that describe your topic, in order to make sure you haven’t inadvertently eliminated relevant material that is contained within works of larger scope. Most likely you will find multiple headings to describe your topic, and you should use all of them. You can narrow your search in the online catalog by combining subject headings (as a phrase) with keywords, using the “Guided Keyword Search” option.
Here are some examples of subject headings relevant to comparative studies of the U.S. and Europe between 1914 and 1929:
|World War, 1914-1918—Women United States—Ethnic relations|
|World War, 1914-1918—Motion pictures and the war United States—Race relations|
|World War, 1914-1918—Personal narratives Civil defense—United States|
|World War, 1914-1918—Literature and the war Radio in propaganda|
|World War, 1914-1918—Posters War films—United States|
|World War, 1914-1918—Propaganda|
|World War, 1914-1918—United States Motion pictures in propaganda|
|United States—Social life and customs—1918-1945 Harlem Renaissance–History|
|Immigrants—United States—History Strikes and lockouts|
|Immigrants—United States—History Strikes and lockout|
|United States—Emigration and immigration—History Riots—United States|
|Nativism Ku Klux Klan (1915- )—History|
|Soviet Union—Foreign opinion, American|
|Soviet Union—History—Revolution, 1917-1921—Foreign public opinion|
|Soviet Union—History—Revolution, 1917-1921—Influence|
|Anti-communist movements—United States—History|
To search the online catalog, go to the Library Gateway (http://www.library.uiuc.edu) and click on “UIUC Library Online Catalog.”
Searching the Online Catalog:
The online catalog offers both “Quick Search” and “Guided Keyword” search options. Use the “Guided Keyword Search” to identify subject headings on your topic, to combine subject headings (or elements from subject headings) in a Boolean search, or to combine keywords from any part of the record with subject headings to narrow your search.
Do a Guided Keyword Search on the phrase “wartime propaganda” or “Red scare” to find books on these topic. (Neither is a Library of Congress subject heading.) Then look at the subject headings in the catalog record for those books (World War, 1914-1918—Propaganda, for example, or Anti-communist movements—United States—History). Then do a Quick Search on the subject heading to find more books on the topic.
Do a Guided Keyword Search combining the phrase “prohibition” as a subject heading with the term “women” as a subject heading. Or try a Guided Keyword Search combining the keyword “race riots” with the keyword “Chicago.”
Use “Quick Search” to browse a subject heading (e.g., Nativism), to search a title when you know exactly how it begins (e.g.,Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s), to locate a work or works by a particular author (e.g., John Higham), or to search by call number for a specific book (e.g., 940.488 C13).
Article Databases: Indexing & Abstracting, Full Text Sources
“Article databases” include indexing and abstracting sources, both online and print, as well as several online full-text collections and some databases that offer a mix of abstracts and full text.
The articles you find using these databases can be either primary sources or secondary sources, depending on when they were published and how you use them. For example, a recent article published in the Journal of American History describing the efforts of the Office of War Information during World War II to portray the heavyweight boxer, Joe Louis, as a symbol of American heroism, entitled “Constructing G. I. Joe Louis: Cultural Solutions to the ‘Negro Problem’ During World War II,” would be a secondary source for most purposes, while an article entitled, “Jim Crow in the Army Camp, by a Negro Enlisted Man,” published in Crisis in 1940, describing the author’s experience in the army in World War II, would serve as a primary source. In addition, occasionally scholarly journals publish archival documents or personal correspondence or memoirs. Most of the time, however, you will use the article databases to find secondary sources.
The main list of online article databases available through the Library Gateway is at http://www.library.uiuc.edu/ (select “Online Research Resources,” and make “Article Indexes & Abstracts” the active tab). There are many online article databases you can use to find scholarly articles on historical topics. For American history, America: History and Life is a good starting place. This is an online periodical index with abstracts, with coverage back to 1964. You can do a subject search in this database and get a list of articles (citations) on your topic. America: History and Life will only give you the citations to the articles, not the text of the articles themselves, unless the journal is linked to a full text journal collection, such as JSTOR. (More on JSTOR below.) Except for articles linked to full-text collections, to get the actual articles indexed in America: History and Life, you will have to search the titles of the journals in the online catalog, which tells you where the journals are located in the Library (or if they are available online).
To search America: History and Life, start at the Library Gateway (http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr/) and type “America History” (not American History) in the search box.
Historical Abstracts is the counterpart to America: History and Life for the history of the rest of the world from 1450 to the present. It provides indexing and abstracting of scholarly material published since 1954. Like America: History and Life, Historical Abstracts provides links to the text of the articles from journals included in online journal collections. Both Historical Abstracts and America: History and Life include citations (and links in some cases) to book reviews and dissertations, as well as journal articles.
Other useful databases include Lexis/Nexis, Infotrac or Expanded Academic ASAP (1980- ), and Academic Search Elite (1985- ). We do not have online access to Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, so you may need to use the annual print volumes in the Reference Library. This is the green set on the table to your right as you enter the Reference Library, which is located on the second floor (200 Library). The call number for Reader’s Guide is 050 RE.
Another important periodical index that is not fully online is Index to Black Periodicals. This began publication in 1941 as A Guide to Negro Periodicals, and was published from 1950 to 1972 as Index to Periodical Articles by and about Negroes, then as Index to Periodical Articles by and about Blacks to 1983, and as Index to Black Periodicals since 1984. The print volumes are located in the Reference Library on one of the tables on the southeast side of the room. Beginning with the 1988 volume, it is included in Black Studies on Disc.
There are several major collections of full-text electronic journals. In these databases you can browse individual issues of journals, or you can do a search across the entire database.
For older journals, use JSTOR (“journal storage”). This is a digitized, fully searchable version of the full content of nearly 400 scholarly journals from their inception (sometimes as early as the 18th century) to the late 1990s (recent issues are excluded). To get to JSTOR, go to the “Quick Links” on the History and Philosophy Library web site, or go to “Online Research Resources” (http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr/) and type JSTOR in the search box. (Make sure that “Article Indexes & Abstracts” or “All Resources” is the active tab.) Several key historical journals are included in JSTOR, such as
|Journal of American History Journal of Modern History
Journal of Interdisciplinary History Hispanic American Historical Review
Journal of Negro History Journal of Modern History
Journal of Black Studies Journal of Southern History
Past and Present American Historical Review
Articles in these and other historical journals in JSTOR are linked directly from the citations found in America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts. In addition, you can search JSTOR directly. Because it is a collection of digitized texts rather than a periodical index, it does not use subject headings. You can only search by keyword (i.e., the words used in the articles published in these journals), so it is prudent to try several different approaches for any given topic. Note that only about 10% of the articles in JSTOR have abstracts, so limiting your search term to the abstracts might cause you to miss relevant material. When a Boolean keyword search produces a large set of results, try using the proximity (“near”) operator to limit the results to a combination of terms occurring within 10 or 25 words of one another.
For the full text of more than 300 recent scholarly journals, use Project Muse. These too are fully searchable. In most cases, only the issues from the last few years are available. Here you will find, for example,
|Journal of the History of Sexuality Hispanic-American Historical Review
Journal of Interdisciplinary History Ethnohistory
Catholic Historical Reviews Journal of the History of Medicine
Radical History Review Journal of Women’s History
American Quarterly Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
To get to Project Muse, go to the “Quick Links” on the History and Philosophy Library web site, or go to the “Online Research Resources” page on the Library web site (http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr/) and type Project Muse in the search box.
The full text of 18 scholarly journals in history is available through the History Cooperative, a joint project of the University of Illinois Press, National Academy Press, American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians. This includes the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, Common-place, Law and History Review, William and Mary Quarterly, Oral History Review, Western Historical Quarterly, Indiana Magazine of History, and others. To get to the History Cooperative, go to the “Quick Links” on the History and Philosophy Library web site.
Where to look for newspapers: 1) try the online catalog; 2) see “Journals & Newspapers”on the Library Gateway “Online Research Resources” page: http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr/ 3) search the Library’s newspaper database: http://web.library.uiuc.edu/asp/nex/searchnews.asp
Finding Newspapers in the Library:
The UIUC Library has an extensive collection of newspapers, both current and retrospective, in a variety of formats, including hard copy, microfilm, and digital reproductions. Not all of them are included in the online catalog, but if you are looking for a particular newspaper title, try searching it first in the online catalog. Look for more than one record for each newspaper, as our holdings may consist of a combination of hard copy and microfilm, for example, and there may be a separate catalog record for each format. Most of these will be located in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, but in some cases, the material will be found in another part of the UIUC Library.
Some newspapers that are not represented in the online catalog may be included in the Library’s separate online database of newspapers (http://web.library.uiuc.edu/asp/nex/searchnews.asp). This database is searchable by place of publication and by keywords from the title.
We have access to the full text of the New York Times online from 1857 to the present, the Wall Street Journal from 1889 to 1985, and the Chicago Tribune from 1849 to the present (still in production, 1849-1879 not yet available). We also have access to the Times (London) from 1785 to 1985. These are digital facsimiles of the originals and are keyword searchable. From the Online Research Resources page (http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr/), type the title of the newspaper in the search box. Although retrospective files of other major metropolitan dailies (such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Constitution, and Boston Globe) have been digitized, the UIUC Library does not yet have access to them, and our online access to these newspapers generally goes back only to the mid-1980s.
Finding articles in newspapers:
For newspapers that have not been digitized, article-level indexing is limited, particularly before the 1970s. The digital versions of the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and Times (London) are fully searchable, so you don’t really need a separate index to use them.
Most newspaper indexes begin around 1970 or later, and few of these are online before 1990. The print (or paper) index for the Chicago Tribune begins with 1972, for the Washington Post in 1971, and for the Los Angeles Times in 1972; these are located in the Library’s remote storage facility (and can be sent to the main Library upon request). There is an index for the Chicago Defender and several other African American newspapers that begins with 1977 (Index to Black Newspapers, 016.0713 In2 and 016.0713 In21, located in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library). Note that the print version of the Alternative Press Index (located in the Undergraduate Library) goes back to 1969, whereas the online version starts with 1991. For more recent newspapers, online abstracting and indexing for some major and regional papers is available through Lexis-Nexis, Newsbank, and EBSCO Host (http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr/, “Journals & Newspapers”).
There are hundreds of encyclopedias and dictionaries devoted to particular regions, time periods, and genres. These vary widely in degree of scholarly sophistication and completeness. The difference in quality from one encyclopedia to another can be very striking. The best way to become familiar with these resources is to browse the reference sections in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library and also in the main Reference Library (in the 300s, 900s, and 016s) and Undergraduate Library, and for online sources to browse some of the collections of reference works linked under “Online Reference Collection” at http://www.library.uiuc.edu/orr.
Here are a few examples of print reference works:
American Historical Association Guide to Historical Literature. Edited by Mary Beth Norton. (1995) 016.9 G941 1995 History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, Reference Library
Encyclopedia of Women’s History in America. By Kathryn Cullen-DuPont. (2000) Q.305.40973 C897e 2000 History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, Undergraduate Library
Harvard Guide to American History. By Frank B. Friedel. (1974) 016.973 H19h 1974 History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, Reference Library
Harvard Guide to African-American History. Edited by Leon Litwack and Darlene Clark Hine. (2001) 973.0496073 H261 History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, Undergraduate Library, Afro-Americana Library
Dictionary of American History. Edited by Stanley I. Kutler. (2003) 10 vols. 973.03 Ad1d 2003 History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, Reference Library, Undergraduate Library
A Companion to American Women’s History. Edited by Nancy A. Hewitt. (2002) 305.40973 C738 History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library
Encyclopedia of American Social History. Edited by Mary Kupiec Cayton et al. 3 vols. (1993) Q.301.0973 En19 Reference Library, Undergraduate Library
Encyclopedia of European Social History from 1350 to 2000. Edited by Peter N. Stearns. 6 vols. (2001) Q.306.09403 En19 History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, Reference Library
© 2005 Mary Stuart