Introduction to Research in American History

I. Doing Historical Research

Primary and Secondary Sources
  • Primary sources were written or created during the period you are studying. If you are studying the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation is a primary source. An article in a newspaper from the period commenting on the Emancipation Proclamation is also a primary source.

  • Secondary sources are studies, interpretations or analyses of primary sources, written or created in a later period. For example, an article about the Emancipation Proclamation in a scholarly journal from 1973 is a secondary source, unless you happen to be studying the 1970s--then it could be a primary source! Make sense?

Things to remember when looking for primary sources
  • The terms we use to describe people and events change over time. For example, in primary sources, the Civil War may be described as "The Rebellion" or simply "the war."

  • Events that we now see as extremely important were not always perceived that way at the time. They may not be "front page news."

What you can find on the web vs. what you can find in the library
  • On the web: digitized primary sources, brief biographies and summaries of events, on-line discussions. Watch out for inaccurate or biased information-- information on the web is often unattributed (no author or source is given).

  • In the library: original primary sources, MORE primary sources, in-depth secondary sources, subscription-based resources on the web, on-the-spot help with your research.

II. Selected Web Sites

Making of America
  • Digitized text and images from more than 4000 books and journals, documenting 19th-century American history.

American Memory
  • From the Library of Congress. A collection of digitized photographs, documents, manuscripts, sheet music, and collectibles, from colonial times to the recent past.

World Wide Web Virtual Library: History
  • A "library" of web pages, organized by chronological period and by topic

III. Sources for Journal and Magazine Articles
Authorized IU Bloomington Users Academic Search Premier
  • An electronic index to articles in a wide range of popular magazines and scholarly journals. Academic Search Premier offers indexing and abstracts for articles in more than 3000 scholarly journals from 1990 to the present and fulltext of articles from more than 1000 journals. Most articles not included in fulltext can be found in paper form in the IU Libraries.

Authorized IU Bloomington Users America: History and Life
  • Covers the United States and Canada from 1450 to the present. Indexes about 2,000 scholarly journals. Most of the article citations include abstracts of 75-100 words.

Authorized IU Bloomington Users JSTOR
  • A journal-digitizing project that contains searchable fulltext from twenty important scholarly journals in history (such as the American Historical Review) from their first issues to the early 90s.

Authorized IU Bloomington Users Historical Newspapers Online
  • Electronic index to the New York Times, 1851-1923 and the London Times, 1790-1945.

Locating Online Fulltext Journals and Newspapers
  • More and more journals are being made available in electronic form. This web page is a searchable list of all the electronic journals the IUB Libraries subscribe to, including journals that are part of large fulltext databases like JSTOR or Academic Search.

Return to History Resources page

Updated September 18, 2001