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 a question: What is your topic? IF you don't have a topic, browse in one of the suggested Reference titles.
Once you have a topic, 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.
--Events and movements will be in these and the print resources listed, along with other disciplinary encyclopedias (political science, women's studies, etc.)
--Individuals will be in the Biography resources: the ANB 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 Gale Literature Resource Center is very useful for individuals who wrote extensively.
Secondary sources (scholarly books, articles, documentaries, etc.)
You are researching individuals, events, or movements, at least the first two have specific names/dates, use those as Subject searches. Movements will also have subject headings, try keyword searching first to use keyword searching first to find the most appropriate. 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. LImited requests for hardcopy from USM libraries, digital requests only from Interlibrary Loan (book chapters, documents, no full works).
--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).
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.
--Events/Movements - date specific - a lot depends on when your event happened: for colonial thru 1940, try American Periodicals and the Historical newspapers. For late 19th c. to 1980s, try the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature. For late 20th c., National newspapers,the Alternative Press collection, Editorials on File. Archival collections of personal papers, correspondence, etc. can be found with Worldcat/ArchivesGrid/Oiaster.
Top-Down History - published sources
--Government reports, 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.
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.
Additional resources can be found on: