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History Courses & Research

History research for non-history majors

Getting started for non-history majors

Not a history major? Get started on the right track with encyclopedias.

If you are a history major, see the pages on the left.

  • You will get a sense of how large or small the topic is and choices for how to narrow
  • You will get free recommendations for more sources, including primary sources

History majors also use the print encyclopedias on history topics--browse 1st floor Reference in the 900's, or try searching using a very general term and the word encyclopedia.

Move to books and documentaries for more in-depth information

Once you have an idea of your topic, look for books and documentaries in OneSearch, WorldCat, and the databases.

Lib Hack: some books reprint selections of primary source documents--diaries, historical newspaper articles, etc--which you can use as primary sources for your project. Look for "sources" on the subject terms list or use it directly as a keyword.

Look for articles when you are ready to find more specific information

Since you are approaching your topic as a newbie, if you try to find articles first, you'll be pulled in a lot of directions by all the different specific aspects of a topic. That's why getting some background and then some book information will help you understand what more specific information you'd like to find in a researched article.

Finding primary sources for history projects

The difference between primary in science and the humanities:

In the sciences, you often call something a primary research article if the topic is an original experimental study performed by the authors. In the humanities, a primary source is anything that is original to the time period which you are studying.

image of a map of the chicago fire

  • A newspaper article from September 12, 2001 is a primary source about that time period.
  • A diary, letter, and other personal communication is a primary source from whatever time period it was written.
  • The social media post you write today will be a primary source about your life if anyone studies it in the future.
  • Primary sources don't have to be written--they can be objects, recordings, and other types of artifacts.

Look for primary sources in print and online

  • Use "source" as a subject term keyword in searching OneSearch and WorldCat.
  • Use "primary source," museum, archive, and/or site:org as a keyword with your topic on Google or another online search engine. The two examples below are different and yielded equally interesting results with primary sources:
    • screencap of a search using museum and site:org
    • Screencap of search using "primary source"

In addition, some databases and websites lead you to primary sources more directly:

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