Your assignments at university are an invitation to join a scholarly conversation by exploring topics in depth, weighing the evidence, and drawing your own conclusions. A good research topic is one that sparks your interest and allows you to ask new questions. This guide is intended to help you get started.
Pick a research topic
- Read your assignment instructions carefully
- Pick a topic that interests you and meets the criteria of the assignment
- Identify key concepts of your research topic
- Need extra help? Click on Choosing an essay topic
- Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia
- Using Wikipedia wisely (video)
Use dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks to find definitions, introductions and overviews of your topic
- Dictionary of American history
- Encyclopedia of American political parties and elections
- The Oxford companion to United States history
- Reviews in American History
Consult writing guides for help
- America History and Life (covers North America)
- Historical Abstracts (covers the world, excluding North America)
- American Memory
- American Periodicals Series Online
- American State Papers, 1789-1838
- Avalon Project
- Bibliography of British and Irish History
- Bibliography of Native North Americans
- British History Online
- C19, The Nineteenth Century index
- Google Scholar - by connecting via the databases web page you will be able to seamlessly connected to Carleton's fulltext collection of journal articles
- HAPI Online
- History of Feminism
- Periodicals Archive Online
- Readers Guide Retrospective
Finding primary sources in the library collection
Use specific words to locate primary sourcees in the Library catalogue, such as: correspondence, sources, diaries, letters, personal naratives. KEYWORD search examples:
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:correspondence
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:diaries
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:letters
- [KEYWORD] and s:sources
Finding primary sources on the Internet
The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) - important source for historical documents, newspapers, journals, archives and other sources. Borrow items through your RACER account.
Historical Digital Collections
- AMDOCS: Documents For The Study Of American History (University of Kansas) - Documents range from Columbus' letter to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1494 to President Bill Clinton's inaugural address in 1993. The list is strongest in 18th and 20th century documents, but the whole of U.S. history is covered.
- American Memory: Historical Collections of the National Digital Library
- American Periodical Series Online
- The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy
- Digital History (University of Houston)
- Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
- Eighteenth Century Collections Online
- Eighteenth Century Journals
- Empire Online
- Historical Text Archive
- Internet Archive: American Libraries
- Making of America - social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction
- Making of America Journals
- Mass Observation Online
- New York Public Library Digital Gallery
- Nineteenth Century Documents Project - transcriptions of primary texts with emphasis on transformation in regional identity
- Official Documents of the United Nations
- Periodical Archives Online
- Vogue Archive
- American Archive of Public Broadcasting
- Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South
- Civil Rights Digital Library
- Civil Rights History Project (Library of Congress)
- American Civil War Digital Collections: Letters and Diaries (University of Delaware)
- American Civil War Manuscript Guides (Virginia Tech)
- Civil War Band Books
- Civil War Diaries and Letters (Iowa Digital Library)
- Civil War Era Digital Collection (Gettysburg College)
- American Presidency Project - large database that includes public papers of the Presidents, State of the Union Addresses & Messages, Inaugural Addresses, Weekly Addresses.
- C19: The Nineteenth Century Index
- FRANKLIN: FDR Library's Digital Collections
- House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
- Labor History Cartoons, University of Pittsburgh
- Living Room Candidate
- The National Security Archive
Medicine and Science
From the National Library of Medicine (U.S.), includes a wide variety of formats. The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.
Military and War
Some free records available here.
- National Jukebox (Library of Congress)
Thousands of rare, historic recordings and special features available through this free site. It includes early jazz, dance music and opera.
- Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties by Tribe Name (Oklahoma State)
- Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
- Illinois Digital Newspapers
- Jet Magazine
- Life Magazine
- New York Times Archives (1851-2005)
- Wall Street Journal (1889-1991)
- Washington Post (1877-1992)
- Times Digital Archive (1785-1992) [U.K.]
- The Guardian (1821-2003) [U.K.]
- The Observer (1791-2003) [U.K.]
- The Abolition of the Slave Trade
- From Slavery to Freedom: African American Pamphlet collection
- Antislavery in New England
- The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
- Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938
One of the most significant and little studied newspapers documenting early anti-slavery and other reform movements.
- North American Slave Narratives
- North Carolina Runaway Slave Advertisements
- Quakers and Slavery
- Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection
Digitized collection of thousands of anti-slavery and abolitionist materials.
- Slavery, Abolition, and Social Justice
- Slavery in America and the World: History Culture and Law
- Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860
Over 100 pamphlets and books published between 1772-1889 dealing with the legal status of slavery
- Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History (HEARTH) (Cornell University Library)
HEARTH is a core electronic collection of books and journals in Home Economics and related disciplines. Titles were published between 1850 and 1950. Excellent primary sources such as Good Housekeeping and Harper's Bazaar among many others.
- Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina)
Begin your search for locating U.S. government publications by using the Library catalogue.
- You can do a subject search using GOV DOC Subject
- You can do a keyword search and limit by the location GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS
- You can do a keyword search using words from the name of the agency and from the title
e.g. a:central and a:intelligence and a:agency and t:factbook
- You can search for a particular government agency in Author
- You can search for a particular Title
If you experience difficulty in locating the material that you need, ask for help at the Information Desk in the Maps, Data and Government Information Centre.
- U.S. Congressional Serial Set (1817-1980) with American State Papers (1789-1838)
- House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
- American Memory: Historical Collections of the National Digital Library (Library of Congress)
A digital library of art images. Includes approximately 500,000 images covering art, architecture and archeology.
The Farber Gravestone Collection is an unusual resource containing over 13,500 images documenting the sculpture on more than 9,000 gravestones, most of which were made prior to 1800, in the Northeastern part of the United States.
Includes Archive of Early American Images, Maps, and Political Cartoons
- Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Catalog
- Life Magazine
- LIFE Photos
- New York Public Library Digital Gallery
- Pictures of the Civil War (National Archives)
- Picturing U.S. History
- U.S. History Images
- USC Digital Library
Provides access to over 100,000 photographs, maps, manuscripts, records, texts, and sound recordings owned by USC and collaborating institutions with particular emphasis on materials related to Los Angeles and the Southern California region.
- American Archive of Public Broadcasting
- Behind the veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South
- Great Depression Interviews
- Oral Histories of the American South: The Civil Rights Movement
- The Roaring Twenties
Provides visitors with an intriguing interactive experience about the urban soundscape and human responses to industrial, human, and transportation noise from January to June 1930. Supporting features such as complaints, documents, official responses, articles from the New York Times, newsreels, laws and Noise Abatement Commission (NYC) responses provide context to the historic view of the soundscape.
Collection of streaming educational videos that cover a wide spectrum of disciplines. Contains both clips and full-length videos.
For video material at the Carleton Univeristy library, do a KEYWORD search in the library catalogue and limit "Material Type" to FILM/VIDEO. If you cannot find what you need search the following database:
If you wish to borrow a video listed in Watmedia please fill out our Interfilm Video Request form - do not submit requests directly to Watmedia.
- Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy (Yale University)
- A Biography of America
- Digital History (Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History)
- American History - From Revolution to Reconstruction (University of Groningen, The Netherlands)
- National History Center
- NINES (Nineteenth Century Scholarship Online)
- U.S. Department of State - Office of the Historian
Special Topics in American History
African American History
- The African-American Mosaic (Library of Congress)
- The African American Odyssey (Library of Congress)
- History: African American (University of Washington)
- Images of African Americans from the 19th Century (New York Public Library)
- Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
The Civil War
- Abraham Lincoln Collection (University of Iowa)
- The American Civil War Homepage
- American Civil War Collections (Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library)
Civil War letters and diary entries include transcriptions and digital images of the manuscripts. A valuable source of primary documents. Note that the newspaper collection is available to students at the University of Virginia only.
- Battle Summaries by Campaign
- Battle Summaries by State
- Civil War@Smithsonian
- Civil War History Center
- Civil War Maps Collection (Library of Congress)
- Civil War Trust
- Civil War Women (Duke University)
- The Crisis of the Union: An Electronic Archive of Documents about the Causes, Conduct, and Consequences of the U.S. Civil War (Department of History, University of Pennsylvania)
- MOLLUS Civil War Image Collection
Collection of 23,000 vintage civil war photographs from the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United Stats from the Massachusetts Commandery.
- Selected Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress)
- Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War
The Cold War
- The Avalon Project at Yale Law School: The Cold War
- Cold War International History Project
- Documents Relating to American Foreign Policy: The Cold War (Mount Holyoke College)
- The American Colonist's Library: A Treasury of Primary Source Documents
- Classics of American Colonial History
An online magazine devoted to colonial America. Site can be searched by keyword.
Government and Politics
Biographical dictionary of all present and former members of the United States Congress as well as its predecessor, the Continental Congress. Also included are Delegates from territories and the District of Columbia and Resident Commissioners from the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
- Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives / Art and History
- Voting America: United States Politics 1840-2008
- Immigration to the United States (Harvard University Library)
Maps & Altases
- America Discovered: A Historical Atlas of North American Exploration
- Atlas of African-American History
- Atlas of Hispanic-American History
- Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States
- British Atlantic, American Frontier (Canadian-American Center)
- Civil War Maps (Library of Congress)
- Cultural Maps in American Studies (University of Virginia)
This site includes U.S. territorial maps from 1775 to 1920 and links to a number of useful exhibits and collections.
The historical map collection has over 30,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia, and Africa are also represented.
- France in America (Library of Congress)
- Historical Atlas of Native Americans
- Historical Atlas of the United States with original maps
- The Routledge Atlas of America History
- Hotchkiss Map Collection - Confederate Army Maps (Library of Congress)
- Map Collections: 1500-2004 (Library of Congress)
A collection of digital maps from the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.
- Map History/History of Cartography
- Mapping the African American Past (Columbia University)
- Maps etc. Early America 1400-1800
- Academic Info: American Women's History
- American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States
- Discovering American Women's History
- National Women's History Project
- ViVa: A Bibliography of Women's History in Historical and Women's Studies Journals
The ViVa database provides citations to over 8,000 articles on the subject of women's and gender history published between 1975 and 2004 in historical and women's studies journals.
- Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender, SUNY)