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History: Getting Started with History Research

Information resources for UCI students, faculty, and staff interested in the field of history.

History Research: A Brief Overview


Your professor may require you to find scholarly sources  popular sources, secondary sources or primary sources on your topic. Here's a very basic guide if you need more details:

Primary Sources: Primary sources are the raw stuff of history. Examples of primary sources:

  • diaries and journals
  • documents,
  • newspaper or magazine articles,
  • statistics,
  • novels, plays, or poetry
  • reports, autobiographies, memoirs, or books written during the time of an event

Some Primary Sources maybe be considered popular sources, but they are of the time that you are researching.

Secondary or Scholarly Sources: 

These are the peer reviewed articles and scholarly books that historians write after they have worked with the primary sources -- and consulted other secondary articles or books.  

Historiography: Historiography is the study of how historians have interpreted historical events throughout time. One way of doing this comparative interpretation, is looking for bibliographies on a subject or using the keyword "historiography" in UC Library Search or an online scholarly database such as Historical Abstracts or America: History and Life.

Want more information about primary resources? Check out the Primary Resources Research Guide!



American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature
Call number: Langson Library 4th Floor Z6201 .A55 1995
Also available online.

Reference sources in history : an introductory guide
Call number: Langson Library Reference 1st Floor D20.F75 2004

Sources of Information for Historical Research
Call number: Langson Library 4th Floor Z6201 .S64 1994



Historical Research: A Guide
Call number: Langson D1625 .M32 2002
W.H. McDowell. London: Longman, 2002.

A Pocket Guide to Writing in History
Call number: Langson D13 .R295
Mary Lynn Rampolla. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, many editions (2001-2015).

A Student’s Guide to History 10th ed.
Call number: Langson D16.3 .B4 2007
Jules R. Benjamin Boston: Bedford Books/St. Martin’s, c2001.

Finding History: Research Methods and Resources for Students and Scholars
Call number: D16 .B693 2012
Christine Bombaro. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012.

Before You Start Searching

Before you start searching for resources, think about what exactly you will search for.

  • Write down key words, phrases, names and dates that might relate to you topic.
  • Think about historical language as well as modern.
  • Put phrases with words that need to be together in a certain order inside "quotation marks"

How do you come up with the words to write down?

  • If you have a course textbook, notes from faculty lectures, start with terminology you find there
  • Read encyclopedia entries about a related person, place, event, or concept to get ideas for more words. Wikipedia is an easy place to start, but for more in-depth information, please see Reference Databases (below) with more detailed information.
  • Search the Oxford Historical Thesaurus (part of the Oxford English Dictionary) to discover historical synonyms for modern words
  • As you find primary and secondary sources, see what language they use, and add new terms to your list ot help you refine additional searches


Secondary Sources: Databases for Getting Started

Historical Abstracts*
Covers world history from 1450 - present. Does not include much on the United States or Canadian, but does have information about early colonial, revolutionary and early republic eras. Includes articles, books, dissertations and book reviews.

America: History and Life*
This is the main database for US and Canadian History. Start here to find peer reviewed articles, scholarly books, and book reviews. For history of any other part of the world back to 1450, use Historical Abstracts.

Academic Search Complete*
A multidisciplinary database for peer-reviewed journals, newspapers and magazines, and some trade publications.

A growing full text collection of scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences. Most titles only include backfiles (some as far back as the early 1800s), with only some current content.

*UCI access only

Reference Databases

* UC Irvine access only