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History: Beginning Your Historical Research

This Guide is designed to help all library users (undergraduate and graduate students, researchers/scholars, faculty, and others identify librarians and library resources who can support them in their work.

Beginning Your Historical Research

A first step to searching for primary and secondary sources related to your topic is to talk to experts (your professors and anyone else that they recommend).

There are three useful principles to remember and apply when searching any kind of electronic search tool (a library catalog, a digital library, a database, the internet, etc.)

1. A keyword search in any resource will point you to great initial resources, but you will not find all of the resources you need this way. 

2. It is really important that you follow up on your initial searching by:

a) looking at the complete records to identify subject headings or descriptors that you can use to search further

b) carrying out seed research: go to the initial sources and check the footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies to find further resources.  It is also helpful to walk around the shelves in the library where you find initial print sources, as other related sources will be shelved in this area.

3. Use reference sources to start your research as well.  There are great electronic and print reference tools (dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and more) that can help you clarify and narrow down your topic and identify great starting resources.

A few excellent online reference packages include:

  • Sage Reference Online
  • Oxford Reference Online
  • Wiley Online Library
  • Oxford Handbooks Online
  • Oxford Research Encyclopediasthe link here is to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, but once you are in, you can click on the radio button "oxford research encyclopedias" to see all of the specific encyclopedias UCSD subscribes to in this suite. 
  • Oxford Bibliographies: Annotated bibliographies on a wide range of subjects which not only point to excellent publications, but also provide examples of bibliographic essays, which are somewhat related to historiographical essays and literature reviews.
  •  Oxford Handbooks Online Licensed by UCSD These are excellent introductions/orientations to a wide range of topics, with comprehensive bibliographies.  UC San Diego has purchased all OHO subject content released through 2020, over 1000 titles spanning Archaeology, Business and Management, Classical Studies, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Economics and Finance, History, Law, Linguistics, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Physical Sciences, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, and Sociology.

A helpful place to identify and learn more about different tools to use in keyword searching (including boolean operators, truncation, and subject headings) can be found on the Search Strategies tab of the MCWP 50 & MCWP 125 Research Guide.  See also the table below.

In identifying what qualifies as a "scholarly source," the following UCSD Library Guides may also be helpful:

Using Citation Software to capture the resources you find through your searches is also very helpful.  Check out the "How to Cite" Research Guide is an indispensable guide to using citation management systems as well as conforming to particular citation styles.

Search Strategies

  Boolean Operators   

Infographic that explains Boolean Operators and gives examples of their uses.

Truncation is a search technique that broadens your search to include various word endings. To truncate your search terms, replace the word ending with an asterik *.

politic* gets results for politics, politician, and political

 

Limits provide database-specific recommendations for narrowing a search. Applying limits will filter out results that don’t meet your search requirements. This will save you time because you won’t need to look through pages of search results that don’t include the information that you need Each database offers different limits. Be sure to check them out to see how they can help you with your search.

For example: In the database, Historical Abstracts, you can filter your search results for peer review, publication date, document type, language, subject, etc.

The image below illustrates how applying limits will help you to narrow
your search results.

For every limit applied the results get smaller

 

It's important to know that databases use subject headings to organize their articles. When you know the right subject headings for your topic, you can search more efficiently. Starting out on a new topic, you won't know the subject terminology. A simple way to find them is to start with a keyword search. When you find an article title that meets your needs, look for the subject headings assigned to that article. In most cases, those subject headings are hyperlinked and will take you to a list of articles with the same subject heading.

linked subject terms are within the articles details

abstracts will highlight key terms used to find the article

Scholarly articles often have extensive bibliographies, also called reference lists or works cited pages. Bibliographies include references to articles, books, and other relevant literature that were published before the article. Some databases provide links to the cited references so that you can look at those articles as well, which might provide more articles for you to use in your paper.

Cited References can help you find articles that are older than the one you are reading.

An Example:

bibliography articles were used to write an article and are older

Look at the example to the left. If you found a relevant article from 2003, you could look at the articles in the bibliography to see where your article got the information used to support their main points. These older articles can also be useful to your research, especially if you need to write a literature review.

You can use a similar method to find newer articles, by looking at the articles who have cited your 2003 article in their bibliographies. To find out more about this method, see the tab for Times Cited references.

 

 

Some databases, like Web of Science, include times cited references. Think of these as the opposite of a bibliography. Where bibliographies include references that are older than the article, times cited references are newer than the article.

Times Cited references can help you find articles that are more recent than the one you are reading.

An Example:

time cited articles are newer than the published article

Look at the example to the left. Let’s say your professor doesn’t let you include references in your paper that are older than 2005. You are finding articles about your topic, but they are all too old. Even the best article about your topic was published in 2003.

Using times cited references, you could see which articles have cited the 2003 article. Chances are you will find one published a more recently that you could use for your paper.

 

 

When you find an article that you think will be a good to use, you can take advantage of “related articles” to find similar articles. Databases have different formulas for determining how an article is “related,” but it usually is a combination of same keywords and descriptors.

You can usually find a list of related articles on the results screen of the database.

great article connected to related articles

CRL

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) is dedicated to preserving important primary source material and making it widely available and accessible.  CRL is digitizing more and more content, but much of its holdings are important microfilm sets, which member libraries  (including UCSD) have the benefit of borrowing for lengthy loan periods of several months.  CRL also has a number of very helpful Research Guides.