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, mostly for professional historians. Students new to the subject can find them hard to understand. Magazine and newspaper articles, on the other hand, are easy to follow, but 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 specialized 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 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 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 are 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.
How to Find Books
Middleton Library's collection of books about history is seachable 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).

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.
How to Find Articles
The easiest way to search for scholarly journal articles, essays, and introductory encyclopedia articles related to History is to use Discovery.  This "one-stop shopping" service searches the catalog as well as many databases and online resources that the LSU Libraries subscribe to.  Use the advanced search to limit your search to scholarly journals.

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
Selected Digital Resources: Europe

The largest free, open-access digital libraries are Google Books, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and Europeana.

Hundreds of smaller digital libraries exist.  For lists of these, see:

European Primary History Resources - Digital Repositories
Digital Libraries of Europe

Many historical European newspapers have been digitized.  See:

List of Online Newspaper Archives
Historical Worldwide Newspapers on the Internet
Historical Newspapers Online
Russian and East European Historical Newspapers
European Newspaper Archives

A useful free, online resource for historical maps is the David Rumsey Map Collection.


Medieval and Early Modern Sources Online (MEMSO)
Digital images of medieval and early modern British and Irish sources, ca. 1000 to 1800.

ITER: Gateway to the Middle Ages & Renaissance
Access to various books, journals, and other electronic resources.

Early English Books Online
Digital images of books printed in English between 1473 and 1700.

British Periodicals I and II 
Full-text access to 500 periodicals from the 1680s to the 1930s.

Palmer's Full Text Online 1785-1870
Full-text access to articles in the London Times.


The Middle Ages Online
Interdisciplinary webliography of internet and other electronic resources, hosted by LSU. Includes section on reference works.
Selected Digital Resources: United States

The largest open-access (free) digital libraries are Google Books and the Hathi Trust Digital Library.  Other major projects include the Library of Congress American Memory Project, Making of America (19th-century U.S. History), and the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Hundreds of smaller digital libraries exist.  For a partial list of the ones that focus on U.S. history, see State Digital Resources: Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical & Cultural Materials CollectionsAnother excellent list is 250+ Killer Digital Libraries and Archives.  Scroll to the bottom of each list to see multi-state projects.

Chronicling America is the largest free database of full-text-searchable digital images of U.S. newspapers. At present, it covers the period 1830 to 1923. Many states have individual newspaper digitization projects. See Directory of Digitzed Newspapers.

The David Rumsey Map Collection has over 45,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th- and 19th-century American maps and other cartographic materials.

Early America:

Early American Imprints, Series 1
Digital images of nearly every book, pamphlet, and broadside published in America, 1639-1800.

Early American Imprints, Series 2
Digital images of selected books, pamphlets, and broadsides published in the U.S., 1800-1819.

Early English Books Online
Digital images of books published in English, including in British North America, 1473-1700.

European Views of the Americas, 1493 to 1750
Guide to printed records about the Americas written in Europe.

History Vault
Digital access to the microfilm series Records of Antebellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War.

Civil War:

American Civil War Online
Includes four databases: Letters and Diaries; Civil War Research Database; Images of the American  Civil War; and Illustrated Civil War Newspapers & Magazines.

HarpWeek (Harper's Weekly)
Full-text access to this important illustrated newspaper for the years 1857-1871.


North American Women's Diaries and Letters
Colonial times to 1950.

Women and Social Movements, 1600-2000.
Organized around 65 document projects that pose an interpretive questions.

African Americans:

Oxford African American Studies Center
Interactive encyclopedia.

Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922
Materials printed by and about African Americans.

African American Newspapers, 1827-1998
270 newspapers published in 36 states.

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
Collection of 1,280 images.

Historical Chicago Defender
Influential African-American newspaper, 1909-1975.

See also the LSU Libraries' subject guide to African & African American Studies.

U.S. Government Sources:

American State Papers, 1789-1838
Legislative and executive documents, many dating from the period between 1789 and the beginning of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set in 1817.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set
U.S. Congressional Serials Set Maps
Reports, documents, and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 1817-1980.

Congressional Hearings
Oral statements, committee questions, and discussions, 1824-2003.

Newspapers & Periodicals:

American Periodicals Series Online
Digital images of American periodicals published from 1740 to 1900.

America's Historical Newspapers
1,000 U.S. newspapers published between 1690 and 1998.

Accessible Archives
Full text of 27 mid-19th-century newspapers, including African-American newspapers.

See also the open-access newspaper archives listed above.

A list of all the History databases that the LSU Libraries provide access to is available here.
Selected Digital Resources: Latin America

There is a growing number of digital libraries specifically devoted to Latin American and Caribbean materials. An extensive list is available from the Johns Hopkins University Libraries.

Many historical Latin American and Caribbean newspapers have been digitized.  See:

List of Online Newspaper Archives
Historical Worldwide Newspapers on the Internet
Historical Newspapers Online

The David Rumsey Map Collection has over 45,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century maps of North and South America.

Topic-specific open-access digital resources from the LSU Libraries' list of databases:

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
Handbook of Latin American Studies


Fuente Academica
Full-text access to more than 200 scholarly Spanish-language journals.

European Views of the Americas: 1493 to 1750
Bibliographic database of more than 32,000 entries.

Caribbean Literature
Although devoted to 19th- and 20th-century fiction, the materials may provide insight into historical events.
Louisiana History Resources
Books & Manuscripts:

The Louisiana & Lower Mississippi Valley Collections in LSU's Hill Memorial Library are 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.


More than 1,700 Louisiana newspapers are available on microfilm  in Special Collections, with the exception of several large daily newspapers post 1900, which are stored in the Government Documents section of Middleton Library.  Check the online catalog before visiting. Various indexes to newspaper titles are available on the Special Collections website.  Consult these if you do not know the name of the newspapers that were published in a particular town or parish.

In addition to microfilm, the LSU Libraries provide access to a number of newspaper databases, which can be accessed by anyone with an LSU ID.  See "Digital Resources" on 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.

Louisiana Authors Index
Basic biographical information on Louisiana authors who died before about 1990.

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.
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.