Research Guides: History

Basic Tips for Beginners
So you have to write a history paper... where do you start?

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. Students new to the subject may 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.)

Need a quick introduction to a subject? An encyclopedia article can be a great place to start, especially one in a specialized encyclopedia. For example, if you're writing a paper on Catherine the Great, look at something like the Encyclopedia of Russian History. See also the "further reading" section at the end of each article.

Also try reference works like the Cambridge Histories Online or the Oxford Handbooks. These contain scholarly essays written for general readers. Many resources of this type are available online in the History Reference Center and Gale Virtual Reference Library. See Indexes & Databases or do an advanced search in Discovery on the library homepage (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 and context. Some books have introductions in which the author outlines his or her argument. Books' bibliographies can help you find 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 are looking for, be creative and make the most of the resources that are available to you. You can also contact the history subject librarian, Michael Taylor, for individual assistance.
How to Find Books
The LSU Libraries' collection of books about history is searchable in the online catalog and via Discovery (a "one-stop shopping" service that searches the catalog, many databases and online resources that the LSU Libraries subscribe to, and the Hathi Trust Digital Library, a collection of 11 million digitized books from more than 50 major research libraries).

Limiting your search to Special Collections (by using the advanced search feature in the catalog) can be a good way of finding primary sources. 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.
How to Find Articles
The easiest way to locate scholarly journal articles, essays, and introductory encyclopedia articles is to use Discovery. This service searches the catalog and many databases all at one time. Use the advanced search to limit your search to scholarly journals.

You can also search individually through full-text article databases to reduce the number of results. Click each link to learn more.

JSTOR -- includes more than 300 academic history journals
Project Muse -- 6,000 full-text History books and journals
Ingenta -- 169 History publications, mostly journals
America: History and Life -- more than 200 journals on U.S. and Canadian history
Web of Knowledge -- includes the Arts & Humanities Citation Index
PAIS International -- for articles on world history; many not in English
C19: Nineteenth Century Index -- full text of many 19th-century publications
History Databases
Click here for a list of History databases that the LSU Libraries subscribe to.  An LSU ID is required for logon in most cases.  For a description of each resource, click the "i" icon to the left of each title.
Selected Online Resources
The largest open-access (free) digital libraries are Google Books, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and EuropeanaOther major projects include the Library of Congress American Memory ProjectMaking of America (19th-century U.S. History), and the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Hundreds of smaller, regional digital libraries exist.  For lists of the most significant resources, see:

State Digital Resources
250+ Killer Digital Libraries and Archives
European Primary History Resources - Digital Repositories
Digital Libraries of Europe
List of Digial Library Projects (Wikipedia)

A free resource for historical maps is the David Rumsey Map Collection.
Newspapers & News Broadcasts
See the separate research guide to News Resources.
Louisiana History Resources
Books & Manuscripts:

The Louisiana & Lower Mississippi Valley Collection in LSU's Hill Memorial Library is one of the largest archives of material on Louisiana history in existence. Visit the Special Collections website for more information and advice on how to begin your search.

Digital Resources:

Many books about Louisiana history have been digitized and are searchable through Discovery on the library homepage. Selected materials from libraries throughout the state are included in the Louisiana Digital Library.


See the separate research guide to News Resources or this page on the Special Collections website.


Louisiana History, the state historical journal, is available electronically through JSTOR and America: History and Life from 1960 to the present. Paper copies of Publications of the Louisiana Historical Society (1895-1917) and Louisiana Historical Quarterly (1917-1973) are available in Middleton and Hill Memorial Libraries.

The Bayou State Periodical Index is an index of articles published in Louisiana periodicals from 1985 to 2006.

Census Information:

Printed copies of the United States Census are available in the Reference Collection on the first floor of Middleton Library, near the reference desk.  Additionally, a binder containing photocopies of population tables and selected aggregate data tables related to Louisiana, 1810-1920, is available at the Special Collections reference desk.  Electronic resources include: American FactFinder (U.S. Census Bureau), Historical Census Browser, and Statistical Abstract of the United States.

Selected Online Reference Sources:

Dictionary of Louisiana Biography
Published by the Louisiana Historical Association.

KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana
Online, interactive encyclopedia. Includes video and recordings.

Louisiana Biography and Obituary Index
Database of obituaries and death notices published in New Orleans newspapers from 1804-1972 and biographical information published in older Louisiana collective biographies.

Louisiana Genealogical Materials
Includes links to electronic as well as print resources.

Louisiana Biographical Reference Works
List of works in the LSU Libraries Special Collections.

How to Find Archives
Descriptions of LSU's extensive archival collections may be searched via the library catalog. However, if a PDF finding aid (inventory) is available, you can do a full-text search of the document via this page on the Special Collections website.

To locate archives at other repositories, try searching in the databases below:

Archive Finder
Archive Grid
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.
See the separate guide to Genealogy Resources.

Note: Even if you are not doing genealogy research, these resources can help you find biographical information and historical statistics.
Subject Specialist
Picture: Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor
Curator of Books and History Subject Librarian
Tel: 578-6547

Rare Books
Don't forget that Special Collections in Hill Memorial Library has many rare books that you can use to study History. Explore our holdings in the catalog or via these introductory guides to selected areas:

Classical Studies
Medieval Manuscript Facsimiles
Latin American & Caribbean History
French Revolution & Napoleonic Wars
Franco-Prussian War
History of Books & Printing

And more! Click here to get started.
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Phone Reference Call: (225) 578-8875
Text Reference
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Still need help?
For one-on-one research assistance, please feel free to contact the History Subject Librarian, Michael TaylorYou can also call the Middleton Library Reference Desk at (225) 578-8875 or the Hill Memorial Library (Special Collections) Reference Desk at (225) 578-6568.