This library course guide is intended to help students hone their information literacy skills related to the research and writing of an essay in history at the university level.
Pick a research topic
- Read your assignment instructions carefully
- Pick a research topic that interests you and meets the assignment criteria
- Identify the key concepts of your research topic, try Choosing an essay topic or Developing strong research questions
- Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia
- Watch Using Wikipedia wisely (watch this video for tips)
Dictionaries and handbooks to help you better understand key concepts, themes and areas of research:
- A companion to postcolonial studies
- A companion to Western historical thought
- A dictionary of contemporary world history
- Fifty key works of history and historiography
- Routledge companion to historical studies
- Short history of the world
- Western Civilization in world history
- World History: a concise thematic analysis
Your professor will want you to use peer reviewed academic literature from journals or books.
- What does peer review mean? Watch this video: Peer Review in 3 minutes
Academic journals (also known as periodicals or serials), publish the world's most recent peer reviewed research in all disciplines, whereas popular magazines are primarily designed to entertain and inform the general public. Getting to know the difference between these sources is important.
If you are unsure if a journal is scholarly and peer reviewed, check Ulrichsweb. It is the definitive source that lets you know what type of journal you are using by 'content type'.
To find journal articles or books on any topic, you have two options:
- type your topic in the box, or use the Advanced Search
- each search will return many results (much like Google), so you must use the filters to refine your search results
- How to find books
- How to find journal articles
- Need more help? Try Omni Search Tips
2. Search specialized databases for History. The following are recommended:
- Historical Abstracts
- America, History and Life
- JSTOR - digital library of journals, books and primary sources
3. Search the content of individual journal titles by using the Journal Search in Omni:
- Journal of contemporary history
- Journal of global history
- Journal of imperial and Commonwealth history
- Journal of social history
- Journal of world history
- Past & Present
- Studies in the world history of slavery, abolition and emancipation
- Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
- World history review
Step by step Instructions for creating a good search string
1. Identify the main concepts of your research topic and brainstorm possible keywords and begin searching for material with Omni, the library's main search box
2. When searching Omni, use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine concepts and enhance your search. These command words must be in CAPS. See examples:
Use AND to narrow a search: voyages AND "Ibn Battuta"
Use OR to connect two or more synonyms within brackets to expand a search: (Ibn Battuta OR Marco Polo) AND travel
Use NOT to exclude a word: java NOT coffee
3. Enclose phrases with double quotation marks to keep words together. Example: "Medieval adventurer"
4. Truncation (or wildcard symbols) allow you to look for variations of words and broaden your search results. For example, an asterisk * at the end of a root word to search various word endings. Example: disease* OR pandemic*
5. Remember to use the filters on Omni to refine your search and focus on peer reviewed articles or books.
6. Use this Research Worksheet to help create your search strings
Begin with these definitions:
Searching for primary sources:
Search your topic (or historical person of interest) using Omni, the library's main search box to find primary sources (or reproductions) in our collection. Keyword searches that include the following terms will identify primary materials most of the time: diar*(for diary or diaries), correspondence, letters, memoir, personal narrative, recollections, reminiscences, journal and sources.
Other search tips:
- Use bibliographies and footnotes of secondary sources on your topic to help identify primary source material.
- Useful e-book: History Beyond the Text : A Student's Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources
- Original documents can also be found by searching our archival collections or by contacting the Archives and Special Collections (ASC) staff for help.
Historical Newspaper Databases
Archives of Primary Sources on the web
- Archives and Primary Sources Databases
- Digital Public Library of America
- Internet Archive
- Hathi Trust Emergency Temporary Access Service
- Library of Congress Digital Collections
- National Archives (UK)
- New York Public Library Digital Collections
- RUSA Primary Sources on the web guide
Other libraries with significant primary source collections:
- Center for Research Libraries (CRL) - Carleton University Library is a member of the CRL consortium. It regularly acquires and preserves newspapers, journals, documents, archives, and other traditional and digital resources for research and teaching and makes them available to member institutions.
Writing your essay
Books on research and writing
- Essaying the past; how to read, write and think about history
- Student writing; give it a generous reading
Citing your sources - why?
- it lets you acknowledge the ideas or words of others if you use them in your work
- it demonstrates that you are using the scholarly record and that you can provide authority for statements you make in your term paper
- it enables readers to find the source information
- it helps you to avoid plagiarism
- Citing your sources
- Chicago Citation Style guide on how to cite for Notes and Bibliography
- OWL Purdue Writing Lab - Chicago Style
Your instructor recommends the following link and notes that "footnotes are the standard citation method for history papers": Chicago Manual of Style: Bibliographic format for references
Other Writing Help
Writing Services offers students instruction on developing an argument, structuring ideas, and writing well.