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Resources for History Graduate

Getting Started

The first step to any research project is selecting your topic. This can be challenging, especially if your assignment is very broadly defined.

One way to narrow down your research options is to use reference works (subject encyclopedias, bibliographic essays, even Wikipedia), to get your bearings. These overviews of a subject area can give you the big picture, and perhaps generate questions you want to explore in more detail. Some call this "presearch" since it happens before actual research begins. We all know to use Wikipedia cautiously; just remember to read critically and consider the sources of information you find there.

Subject encyclopedias are the great reference sources since they are written by recognized experts in the field, contain citations or suggestions for further reading, and sometimes introduce you to the significant debates and controversies on your topic.

- Adam Beauchamp, Tulane University, History Research Guide: Background Info

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources represent original research or information that can be used to support your own research and writing. These resources present discoveries or results for the first time; in other words, they have not been interpreted, summarized, or analyzed for you (Petrillo, 2014).

The following types of materials are generally considered primary resources:

  • Autobiographies, memoirs, books, and monographs
  • Diaries, Journals, Scrapbooks, Ephemera
  • Correspondence including letters, email, text messages, and postcards
  • Speeches and interviews
  • Music, maps, architectural records
  • Published materials (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
  • Government documents, census data, and published reports
  • Visual materials that include artwork, photographs, posters, prints, and digital images
  • Moving images and sound recordings that include film and oral histories
  • Printed ephemera, objects, and artifacts

Here are some suggested keywords to include when searching for primary documents in Dupré Library databases:

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • early works
  • interviews
  • manuscripts
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources
  • speeches
  • letters
  • documents

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources are published or unpublished works that represent raw data or information that has been evaluated, analyzed or summarized already to form some sort of conclusion. These conclusions represent original additions to the primary or secondary works being evaluated. An easy way to think of it is that secondary sources typically analyze events that have already happened using historical context, whereas primary sources report directly on an event via first-person accounts.

Examples of secondary sources

  • Journal and magazine articles
  • News reports
  • Encyclopedias
  • Textbooks
  • Books

Where can I find secondary sources?

You can find secondary sources a number of ways.

Finding Peer-Reviewed Articles

What does "peer-reviewed" mean?

A peer-reviewed article is reviewed by subject experts before being approved for publication in order to ensure that it meets specific criteria and standards. Journals that use peer review in their selection process are generally considered to be of higher quality and more trustworthy than those that don’t use the peer review process.

How do I find peer-reviewed articles?

You can find peer-reviewed articles by searching our databases. Most databases give you the option to select for peer-reviewed articles when conducting your search. Check the "Peer Reviewed" box to ensure all the articles in your search results come from peer-reviewed journals.