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History Courses & Research

Advanced Skills - on this guide and elsewhere

Mining Encyclopedia Articles

You are probably already skilled at skimming encyclopedias to get started--a good basic skill.

But the more advanced researcher mines the full article. Watch the video below to learn more.

WorldCat: Search and borrow from libraries around the world

OneSearch and our own book collection is usually sufficient for first-year courses. For history courses, using WorldCat for finding and borrowing from libraries around the world will be essential.

TRAC Partner Libraries: Search and borrow from libraries in Iowa

TRAC is a specialized way of borrowing books from a network of regional libraries--the chief advantage is that you get the item for 120 days! Alternatively, when borrowing through WorldCat, the lending periods can vary widely.

Incorporating Subject Terms

Knowing how to incorporate subject terms give you more control over your searching. Subject Terms are part of the controlled vocabulary used to organize information in cataloging library item records.

  • Controlled Vocabulary: A list of terms chosen by LoC to authoritatively refer to particular people, places, things, and ideas. Eliminates confusion from synonyms and homographs. When used in the assigned order for the assigned purpose, shows hierarchical and associative relationships. Crucial in a pre-keyword world; still useful in a post-keyword one.
  • Subject Term: The word or combination of words chosen by the cataloger to reflect an item's "aboutness." To determine the aboutness, the cataloger considers the specificity, subjectivity, and exhaustivity of the item and generally does not choose a term that takes up less than 20% of the resource. Knowing this can also give you a sense of how much time the item spends on your topic.
    • The order of the terms is highly controlled and, if you notice it, can be useful to you as you either search specifically for subject terms or incorporate them into your keyword searches:
    • Some terms are allowed to be both the broader term and the subdivision. Literature is one of these.For example, some terms are allowed to have a narrower geographical term and some aren't:
      • Not allowed: Literature--United States
      • Allowed: Philology--United States

Ulrich's, Impact Factor, and the long tail

You may have heard of "impact factor" as a way to determine the quality of a publication. While impact factor can provide a sense of how well-known and well-respected a publication is, it doesn't tell the whole story--largely because of what is called the long tail of publishing.

Impact Factor

The impact factor is a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year, taken from a two-year period. Journals with articles that get cited frequently have high impact factors and are often accorded more prestige, with the implication being that the best and most important research is sought after by other researchers for engagement.

Long Tail of Publishing

This graph is based on books, but the same is true of scholarly journals--the most well-known garner the highest sales, while smaller, less-well-known journals have very small circulation and thus low impact--even when they may be high-quality or contain important research. On the other hand, some publications are fringe for a reason. Keep this in mind as you make your selections.     

Image taken from Brynjolfsson, Hu and Smith (2006): “From Niches to Riches: Anatomy of the Long Tail.”

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