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HIS 450: Senior Seminar

A guide to library research as a professional historian.

Research Strategies

Pearl Growing: Front-End approach (used at beginning of search)

Research strategy that finds one ideal source that is similar to what you're researching.
The terms used to index that one perfect source are then used to track down other sources that have been indexed with the same terms.

    Ex: Subject Headings

    Example search: dust bowl in WorldCat

Bibliography Mining: Back-End approach (used once other sources have been acquired)

Research strategy that looks at the bibliographical references within a major academic work (article or book) that is on your topic.
A researcher then goes out and finds those sources, which contain more 'deposits' of historical discourse.

    Example search: stamp act in WorldCat

Bibliographic essays may also be found at the end of some prominent works and textbooks which guide the researcher to other sources.

And of course, Literature Reviews of historical writings are invaluable. (See Historiography tab)

Historiography

Historiography

  • Study of how historians ‘do history’.
  • The findings and approaches (methodologies) historians have taken in their study of an historical topic.
  • Provides important developments in methodologies, approaches, and interpretations of historical thought.

Finding Historiographies

  • Most seminal and paradigm-changing discourse includes a review of the more vital research that has appeared.
  • Historians who propose new historical interpretations have a professional and academic responsibility to include an overview of the historical evolution of that literature.
  • In most databases, historiographies can be located by adding the term “Historiography” or "Literature Reviews" to your other search terms.
  • Again, discovering a clear and well-organized historiography of your topic is a goldmine for finding important and relevant sources. The more recent, the better.

Tip:

Bibliography Mining is an effecient way to discover primary source material.

Often students will begin searching for primary sources by simply typing in a search term and 'primary documents.' This might work on occasion, and there are publications that are devoted to primary source material, but it is much more effective to collect citations from the bibliographical references within a text that is focused on your topic. This is often only accomplished by getting the physical item in your hands.  

Acquiring the material is the tricky part.