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
  • Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia

Use dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks to find definitions, introductions and overviews of your topic

Consult writing guides for help

Finding primary sources in the library collection

   1. Original documents can be found by consulting the Archives and Research Collections (ARC) website.
   2. Reproductions can be found by checking the library catalogue.

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

Custom Google Search for American Primary Sources

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) - important source for historical documents, newspapers, journals, archives and other sources.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

Civil Rights

Civil War


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.


Thousands of rare, historic recordings and special features available through this free site. It includes early jazz, dance music and opera.

Native/Aboriginal History

News Media


One of the most significant and little studied newspapers documenting early anti-slavery and other reform movements.

Digitized collection of thousands of anti-slavery and abolitionist materials.

Over 100 pamphlets and books published between 1772-1889 dealing with the legal status of slavery

Social History

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.

The South


Government Information

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.



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

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.

Audio Interviews

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.


Kanopy is a streaming service that provides a platform for educational video products covering a wide range of subjects, from arts, humanities, health, business, education, and more.

For videos not held at Carleton:

  • Watmedia - is a cooperative catalogue of the film and video collections of Ontario university libraries.
  • 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.

General Gateways


Special Topics in American History

African American History

American Revolution

The Civil War

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.

Collection of 23,000 vintage civil war photographs from the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United Stats from the Massachusetts Commandery.

The Cold War

Colonial Period

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.

Guilded Age


Maps & Altases

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.

A collection of digital maps from the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.

Social History

Women's History

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.

Content last updated: April 2, 2019