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HIST 201: 1950s America and the Rosenbergs

Process Overview

Research Process / Overview of Resources

This summary provides a basic overview of how to go about researching a topic, with comments on essential resources and tips to make the research portion of writing your paper less daunting. The tabs for each section contain more detail.

Every research paper begins with the question: What is your topic?  For this class, you will be writing on some aspect of the history of the Rosenberg espionage case in the larger context of the early Cold War. The standard research process usually incorporates the following:

Background : Encyclopedias, historical dictionaries, etc.
Use the Reference resources for essential background information, these will give you dates, names, and a (more or less) detailed chronology and summary of activity. Suggested resources: GVRL or Oxford Reference - History. Entries will have bibliographies and/or suggestions for further reading and other useful links.

--Individuals will be in the Biography resources: American National Biography (online or print) is good for famous/notorious dead folk (usually white/male/ important but getting better); the AANB [print] is essentially the same thing for African Americans, Biography in Context is good for both the living and the dead, and Artemis is very useful for individuals who wrote extensively. 

--Events/ Time periods will have their own subject headings and often their own specific Reference works (see examples):  Entries in these types of Reference works can include more detail and the bibliographies are usually more focused.

Secondary sources (scholarly books, articles, documentaries, etc.)
Secondary sources provide detail and context. When researching specific individuals, or events/time periods, you start off already knowing at least the basic subject terms you can use as Subject searches: 
Personal name(s): Rosenberg, Ethel and Julius
Time Period: Cold War
Activity: Espionage
These can be searched individually or combined, i.e.(Subject= 'Rosenberg AND Cold War', or 'Rosenberg AND espionage') 

 Scholarly sources will have bibliographies, it's one of the best ways to identify primary sources and other secondary sources. If the source doesn't have a bibliography and isn't a memoir, autobiography,  or some sort of opinion piece use at your own risk.
--Catalogusmai and Worldcat are recommended for book searching.
--America: History & Life is the best database for articles in History journals AND it links to JSTOR and Project Muse. the Article Search on the library homepage is good for seeing how extensively your topic has been written about.
--Videos/documentaries can be searched for directly in the video databases or using the Books, Media tab.

Primary Sources (government reports, archival collections, contemporary articles/news, personal writings/memoirs, correspondence, etc.) See the Primary Sources guide for search techniques.
Primary sources come in a lot of different varieties, most of what you will likely use will be from published sources or easily accessible archives (in person or online).

Top-Down History - published sources
--Government reports, FBI investigations, legal cases are all published - Worldcat is best for reports & findings, LexisNexis or Westlaw for legal cases (Federal cases are available, state cases only at the appeal level).These sources are good for statistics, chronology, the "official version" of things. The Rosenberg espionage case involved the federal government in many different ways and created many records at different levels, use Westlaw or LexisNexis for the published court proceedings, and NARA for recently released trial transcripts.

Bottom-up (mostly) History - published sources
--Individuals as Authors - the easiest primary sources to identify. Use Worldcat, anything not in the USM can be ordered through ILL. 
----Individuals as Subjects - The Rosenberg case and trial(s) generated a lot of press and commentary. Articles from contemporary popular magazines and newspapers are the best sources for what the public was reading about the case and reactions to it.

Historical newspapers can be online or on microfilm. Popular magazine articles can be located using the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature (print)  

Archival collections (unpublished)
If available, personal papers, diaries, correspondence, and other unpublished material will be found in archives. Archival collections can be located with Worldcat or its subsets ArchivesGrid and OIaster. You will be having a session with the University Archivist in Special Collections to discuss archives more specfically.  

Always remember to be aware of who is creating the document you're reading and who it is meant to be read by. Government reports can clarify or obfuscate, major newspapers often offer very different takes on events depending on ideology, and the Alternative Press (and more recently, social media) gives a voice to those often left out of the larger conversation. Individuals writing for publication may often say very different things when writing privately. Context is profoundly important.


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