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US History Research Guide

Note on Historical Research

When researching historical materials, especially newspapers, it is often necessary to use language in common use at the time of publication. Historical newspapers reflect the opinions and attitudes of their time. Their pages often contain biased, offensive, and outdated words and images that are now understood to be harmful.    

In research our goal is to support the discovery of resources, not to continue the use of derogatory or harmful language.  As responsible researchers, we should acknowledge and be mindful of how these terms oppressed groups of people, and take great care in using these terms to conduct research in the present. 

Recommended Resource: US History in Context

US History in Context includes Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary resources on historical events in the United States. This database is an excellent starting point for historical research. Always pay close attention to what kind of source you are looking at. Tertiary resources provide excellent background information but should not be cited in your research.

Not sure what sources are appropriate? Use the Help tab to ask a librarian. 

Getting Started - Tertiary Resources

Tertiary resources include: encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs. Tertiary sources provide big-picture and background information. In historical research, use tertiary sources to understand the facts and time-lines of historical events. By developing your knowledge of a subject or historical event, you will be able to better understand and analyze primary and secondary sources. 

Find Secondary Resources - Articles and Books

Secondary sources are scholarly articles and books that interpret and analyze primary sources to provide a scholarly understanding of historical events. These scholarly sources will provide much of the research you cite in your paper. 

Find Primary Sources

Primary sources are the objects created during a particular event and may include:

  • First-hand accounts such as diaries and letters, speeches, and interviews
  • Newspaper articles published at the time 
  • Text of laws or other original documents
  • Datasets and surveys such as census data or statistical information
  • Photographs, video, or audio captured of the event

Find Documentaries

Documentaries may be secondary or tertiary sources. Look for films that provide a specific point-of-view, context, and analysis to use as secondary sources. Films that simply relate a series of events can be appropriate background sources. Documentaries can be strong sources that provide visual and audio elements to improve your understanding of an event.