It is tempting to start with articles because they are short. Be aware, however, that there are different kinds of articles. Academic journal articles are written at an advanced level for professional historians. Students new to the subject can find them hard to understand. Magazine and newspaper articles, on the other hand, while easy to follow, are usually not reliable as scholarly resources. (They can, however, be excellent primary sources, depending on how you use them).
If you are looking for a quick introduction to a subject, an encyclopedia article can be a great place to start, especially one in a subject-specific encyclopedia. For example, if you have to write a paper on Catherine the Great, have a look at something like the Encyclopedia of Russian History. Entries in these kinds of encyclopedias can give you a good introduction to a topic in just a few pages. They also usually have "further reading" sections at the end.
Also try reference works like the Cambridge Histories Online or the Oxford Companions, which contain scholarly essays written for general readers. Many of these resources are available online in the History Reference Center and Gale Virtual Reference Library (LSU logon required). You can limit your search to encyclopedias or reference books under "Publication Type."
Although you may not have time to read it from cover to cover, a book is usually a better place to start than a scholarly article because it provides more background information and context. Books published by university presses often have excellent introductions in which the author outlines his or her argument and summarizes what the rest of the book is about. Books are also great starting places because you can mine their bibliographies for additional resources.
Have a general idea of what you want to research, but be flexible. The best paper topics are often found by accident! If you can't find what you were originally looking for, be creative and make the most of the resources that are available to you.
Sometimes the best place to start is with your librarian. Feel free to contact the History Subject Librarian, Michael Taylor, for personalized help doing historical research in the LSU Libraries. You can also visit the Reference Desk on the first floor of Middleton Library or the Special Collections Reference Desk in Hill Memorial Library.
Special Collections in Hill Memorial Library also has many books about history. To limit your search to Special Collections in the catalog, use the advanced search feature and select Hill Memorial Library under the library tab. If using Discovery, select "Special Collections" under "Location." This can be a good way of finding primary sources, since many of the books in Special Collections are first-hand accounts of historical events. Although the Special Collections shelving areas are not open to the public, you can browse virtually by finding a book relevant to the topic of your research and clicking "nearby items on shelf" in the catalog record.
Separate guides to published materials in Special Collections are available for some areas of history.
You can also search individually through the following full-text article databases and indexes that Discovery searches. Click each link to learn more.
History Reference Center -- primarily reference books
America: History and Life -- more than 200 journals on U.S. and Canadian history
C19: Nineteenth Century Index -- full-text access to many 19th-century publications
JSTOR -- includes more than 300 academic history journals
Project Muse -- 6,000 full-text History books and journals
Web of Knowledge -- includes the Arts & Humanities Citation Index
Ingenta -- 169 History publications, mostly journals
PAIS International -- for articles on world history; many not in English
WorldCat (use Advanced Search and limit type to Archival Materials)
Be aware that although they overlap to some extent, each database has material not in the others. Also keep in mind that records are brief and do not list every single item or person referred to in the collection. You may have to contact the archive and see if they have a more detailed finding aid or inventory.
Also be aware that many institutions have not fully cataloged their holdings, and some repositories, especially small historical societies and private or business archives, have not reported their holdings to these databases. Sometimes the best thing to do is a simple web search.
Repositories of Primary Sources is a directory of over 5,000 archives websites worldwide.
For information on LSU's extensive archival collections, visit the Special Collections website.
For lists of databases and other resources related to particular areas of history, please see the separate topic guides listed above.
Assistant Curator of Books
|Frequently Asked Questions|
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