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Assignment | History Research Paper (South): 3. Find Sources

Fall 2019 | HIST 1301, 1302 (Prof. South)

Illustrated stop sign on a blue backgroundDid you do your background research?

Unless you already have a degree in your topic, this is a very important step that you definitely shouldn't skip! Bypassing it will not save you time: it just means you're going to spend at least twice as long guessing at search terms for the resources listed below.

Recommended Databases

Find SourcesDon't just wander Google aimlessly -- jump into credible, reliable sources with these library resources:

illustration of a question mark on fire (burning question)Psst -- what's a database?

In its most basic sense, a database is just a selection of information designed for you to search and retrieve stuff from it. Amazon is a database you're probably familiar with: it's limited (only contains things you can buy through them) and retrievable (you can search and filter your results to find what you're looking for).

The library databases contain reputable, reliable sources of information to support researchers like you! This means everything from digital encyclopedias (like Credo), ebooks, scholarly journal articles, magazine and newspaper articles, streaming videos, statistics, and more.

Ebook Collections

You'll be able to read these books right away, in your browser, 24/7.

Making the Most of Advanced Search

These databases will generally start you out with a basic one-field search not unlike what you see when you go to Google. Don't fall for it. There are 2 big benefits to database searching: you don't have to scrutinize your results for reliability, and you have the power of the Advanced Search to weed out the irrelevant.

Screenshot of a JSTOR basic search for "Civil War" which would bring back 793K results

When you're constructing your search, think about how to break your topic down into little bite-sized chunks. You can't just write "Civil War Sherman burns Atlanta" -- well, you could... but it's more effective to break it down, as shown below:

Screenshot of advanced search using multiple fields: Civil War AND United States AND Sherman AND Atlanta

As you add on additional fields for search terms, they'll be joined together by AND by default. This "AND" is the most powerful limiter: the articles you get back have to have term 1 AND term 2 AND term 3 to end up in your results.

If you notice you're getting a lot of articles about Gettysburg instead of Atlanta, you can add another field and switch the AND to a NOT (NOT Gettysburg) to help get rid of those results.


This is where your background research really pays off!

All those terms and phrases and ideas you developed before? They all can feed the Advanced Search machine. Be sure to consider synonyms for your different search terms so you can swap them out to play with your search. (E.g. "college" but also "university" or "higher education")

Plus, because you did that background research, you're starting off with a clearer idea of what information you need to find. This means you'll know what you need to put in those search fields to narrow it down from the massive and generic "Civil War" to "Civil War AND United States AND Sherman AND Atlanta."

Search Tips

Search exact phrases using quotation marks: "Four score and seven years" AND rhetoric

Introduce some wiggle room with wildcards. Searching econom* for example will bring back economy, economic(s), economist(s), and anything else with that root. Can be useful, can be overwhelming.

America: History and Life is a nice starting point, because you can specify what time period you're interested in. So you could start off searching for just "telegraph" but only articles discussing it in the era of 1885 - 1904.

JSTOR is massive and hard to limit. Build yourself up to this -- it's worth the effort!
Academic Search Complete contains scholarly articles, magazine articles, and newspaper articles. Limit your search to scholarly (peer-reviewed) in the search limits. (Also, use the Full Text limiter to make sure you get back articles you can read right away!)

Accessing the Databases

Access 100+ databases organized by subject area from the Research Databases page. Also try our dynamic, sortable database list!

Student ID BadgeTo access the databases locked icon (same icon that displays by the LSC-limited access resources) from off-campus, you must provide the 14-digit library barcode.

Don't have one yet? Request a barcode number online.

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