Historical Writing Project

History 701: Methods of Historical Research

Exercise adapted from Charles D’Aniello, ed.  Teaching Bibliographic Skills in History (1993), pp. 80-84. 
Student:  Begin by defining a topic for investigation.  For EACH of the seven categories, as you identify reference sources using the various guides to reference books and the catalog, provide the following nine items of information: a bibliographic citation, call number, and a description of the source’s structure; note its special features, strengths, weaknesses, and coverage, if it gives bibliographic references, and if it is available in electronic form(s) (online and/or CD-ROM). Note that the Tri-College libraries may not own some of these standard sources. Each of the seven categories should be written in complete sentences and should be between 50 and 100 words in length.  In your citations, you must follow the Chicago Manual of Style. A good summary of it is contained in Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Then, proceed as directed.

Pathfinder II - Primary Literature

  1. Books.  If you will be using books published in earlier periods, cite and annotate the catalogs

of bibliographies you will use to identify them. As appropriate to your topic, include such sources as the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue (a machine-readable database), the catalog of the British Museum, or Charles Evan’s American Bibliography and Ralph Robert Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker’s American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801-1819.  For each bibliography or catalog you consult, cite a book you found using it

2. Magazines and Journal Articles.  Same as above.  Remember to include periodical indexes

that provide retrospective coverage or indexes published during the period under study.  For instance, if you are researching nineteenth-century American history you will cite the Nineteenth Century Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature and Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature.  If you are interested in the reaction of American historians in the 1930s to a particular historical event you will want to search appropriate volumes of Writings on American History

3. Manuscript and Archival Collections. As appropriate to your topic, cite and annotate such sources as

the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, the Archives: A Guide to the National Archives Field Branches, and the Guide to the National Archives of the United States and other useful general and specialized indexes and guides as well as directories, such as the Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the United States and the Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers..  Cite a relevant collection or repository identified through each.

4. Printed and Microfilmed Collections.  Include such things as the collected works and papers of

individuals and collections of documents focused on a particular event or topic.  Among sources through which printed collections may be found are our library’s catalog, RLIN, OCLC, Lee Ash, Subject Collections: A Guide to Special Book Collections, the Harvard Guide to American History, and the American Historical Association’s Guide to Historical Literature; for microfilm collections use Suzanne Cates Dodson’s Microform Research Collections: A Guide.  Cite two printed collections and two microform collections.

5. Newspapers. As appropriate to your topic, cite and annotate, as appropriate, union lists of

newspapers such as American Newspapers, 1821-1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada, Winfred Gregory’s American Newspapers, 1821-1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada, and Newspapers in Microform in the United States, 1948-1983. For bibliographies/union lists use such works as Clarence S. Brigham’s History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820.  Cite five newspapers you might consult.

6. Government Documents. As appropriate to your topic, cite a guide that describes the government

publications of the nation (or state) or organization appropriate to your research.  For instance, if your topic concerns Great Britain you should cite Frank Rodger’s A Guide to British Government Publications.  For the United States, you should cite Daniel Lester's Cumulative Title Index to United States Public Documents, 1978-1976. Then refer to this source to determine the types of documentation likely to be of use to you and describe the types of material you might consult.  Therefore, if you are researching the history of a piece of legislation, briefly describe the documentation generated by the legislative process.

7. Other Categories of Primary Source Material. As appropriate to your topic, describe the types of

materials you might use—diaries, physical objects, radio or television tapes, works of art, statistical records (list governmental statistics above), maps, and so forth—and cite and annotate indexes, bibliographies, books, and other sources helpful in accessing them.  For instance, if you wish to use American diaries you will list William Mathew’s American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of American Diaries Written Prior to the Year 1861 as well as Mathew’s American Diaries in Manuscript, 1580-1954.  As you have done in similar instances, look for such aids in the Guide to Reference Books and in Walford’s Guide to Reference Material.

This handout developed by Larry Peterson of North Dakota State University