History Research Guide
- Getting Started
- Find Books and Films
- Find Articles
- Find Primary Sources
- Citing Sources
This guide is designed to provide undergraduate researchers with helpful tips and suggested print and electronic resources about history. The guide is divided into five different sections. Each is designed to assist the researcher with ideas on how to track down material relating to their history research topics.
How to do History Research
The following site provides a detailed introduction on how to read, write, and research for history—from developing reading skills for critical primary and secondary sources to formulating an argument. This site is highly recommended for those who have never written a college-level history paper.
Reading, Writing, and Researching for History
Finding Background Information
Background sources, such as specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries, are an essential piece of the research process. They can help you:
- Gather information about your topic and understand the scope of the research
- Locate reliable sources and clarify keywords
- Pinpoint important authors, texts, ideas, and keywords about the research area. Knowing what the primary phrases and concepts are will help you a lot as you are searching library databases and online sources.
GriffinSearch is a good starting place if you are looking for reference titles, books, journal articles, films, and other material related to history available in the library. In addition to searching the Giovale Library catalog for physical materials, GriffinSearch finds e-books and articles from several of our databases, including the Research Starter database.
Credo Reference is a multi-publisher collection of high-quality reference titles covering everything from the arts, astronomy, and law to literature, science, and Shakespeare. The collection currently contains over 162 titles taken from 36 different reference publishers, and more titles are being added. Available titles also include a range of multimedia options including thousands of high-quality diagrams, photographs, maps, and audio files. Credo Reference offers the following relevant titles to history and more:
- Archeology & Paleontology
- Europe – History
- Great Britain – History
- Ancient History
- United States – History
- World History
History Reference Center
The History Reference Center features full-text primary source documents and informational texts for undergraduate history research in US history and a variety of specific events in world history. In addition, the site’s research guide provides information about effectively conducting historical research and writing research papers.
Search History Reference Center
Biography Reference Center
This source contains over 430,000 full-text biographies. The information comes from classic and modern books, encyclopedias, newspapers, and full-text biographical articles and provides an excellent bibliography for each subject to aid in further research. This reference center can be searched to discover historical figures from important historical eras, major wars, and historic leaders.
Find Books and Films
Print and e-books are valuable sources for academic research. They will help you to gain an overview of your topic and often contain in-depth information about the scholarship or history of research on a subject. Some books are written by single authors, while others include essays or chapters by multiple scholars within a discipline. Don’t let the length of books intimidate you because you don’t need to read them from cover to cover. Look at the table of contents and index to find the sections that are relevant to your work.
Books as Secondary Sources
Sometimes history papers will require secondary source materials as part of the assignment. In a history research paper, secondary sources are generally scholarly books and articles that describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, and summarize primary sources as a non-fiction work. Bear in mind that not all authors of secondary sources on historical subjects are professional historians.
Find Books Using GriffinSearch
GriffinSearch is a good starting place if you are looking for books, journal articles, films, and other materials available in the library. In addition to searching the Giovale Library catalog for physical materials, GriffinSearch finds e-books and articles from several of our databases. To get started, search by keyword or type in the title of a book here:
Academic Videos Online (AVON)
AVON provides unlimited access to a comprehensive selection of videos curated for the educational experience.
WorldCat lets you search for books, articles, videos, and other material that are available in libraries worldwide. If you are doing in-depth research on a topic and are considering requesting resources through Interlibrary Loan, WorldCat can help you discover resources that might not be in the Giovale Library collection.
Interlibrary Loan (ILL)
Interlibrary Loan is a service where patrons of one library can borrow books and other materials, and access journal articles that are owned by another library.
Explore Interlibrary Loan Materials
Utah Academic Library Consortium
Giovale Library participates in the Utah Academic Library Consortium (UALC) and Westminster College students have reciprocal circulation privileges at UALC partner libraries. Each UALC library has different circulation policies, but all require a current, valid, legal photo identification and proof of current enrollment at Westminster. Some libraries may also require other verification methods, so it is recommended that you contact the library you are interested in for details.
Popular Titles and and Featured Texts
Tangible Things: Making History Through Objects
Research Methods for History
Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
The Giovale Library provides access to a number of subject databases that you can use to find journal articles on topics within a specific discipline or field of study. The databases listed on this page are those that are most useful for finding research published in the field of History.
Articles as Secondary Sources
In a history research paper, secondary sources are generally scholarly books and articles that describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, and summarize primary sources as a non-fiction work. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research. Bear in mind that not all authors of secondary sources on historical subjects are professional historians. Biographical details about the authors are often available, and they will help you to determine how popular or scholarly a particular source may be. Articles that have gone through a peer-review process—an examination by a series of scholars in similar fields—will usually be a good source for your research.
GriffinSearch is a good starting place if you are looking for books, journal articles, films, and other material available in the library. In addition to searching the Giovale Library catalog for physical materials, GriffinSearch finds e-books and articles from several of our databases.
US History Collection
This database provides access to scholarly journals and magazines useful for historical research related to US History. This resource also provides content on the coverage of events in US history and scholarly work being established in the field.
JSTOR is an interdisciplinary archive of full text articles from journals in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. It includes retrospective coverage of publications which means that a majority of the articles will be 1 to 5 years old. To search for anthropology or archeology articles, after entering your search terms, scroll down to “Journal Filter” and select anthropology or archeology.
SocINDEX with Full Text
SocINDEX with Full Text includes full text for 397 sociology journals dating back to 1908 and 150 "priority coverage" journals. It also includes full text for more than 720 books and 6,743 conference papers. The database encompasses all sub-disciplines of sociology and closely related areas of study, including sociological history, making it an invaluable resource for social history research.
Search SocINDEX with Full Text
InterLibrary Loan can provide access to some journal articles that are owned by another library. To request an interlibrary loan, a patron must log into our ILLiad service with their Westminster username and password and fill out the interlibrary loan request form through their account.
Westminster College attempts to fill all requests as quickly as possible; on average articles can take 1–7 days to receive electronically. Like books, the time needed to obtain an interlibrary loan item depends upon the rarity of the journal subscription, the publication date, the copyright permissions, and the policies of the lending library. Be warned: journals that are strictly available online can be difficult to get access to due to licensing restrictions.
Find Primary Sources
Primary sources include historical documents, government and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, flyers and pamphlets, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects. Anything that provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art could be considered a primary source. Interviews, surveys, emails, hand-written correspondence, diaries, and blogs are also primary sources.
For more information about evaluating primary sources, the American Library Association provides an excellent set of guidelines.
Learn more at RUSA – Evaluating Primary Sources
Collections of Digitized Primary Sources
African Studies Virtual Library
Columbia University's collection of African Studies Internet Resources is an on-going compilation of electronic bibliographic resources and research materials on Africa, created under the purview of the African Studies Department of Columbia University Libraries. Electronic resources from Africa are organized by region and country.
Search African Studies Virtual Library
Digital Public Library of America
This search engine provides access to millions of texts, images, audio files, video files, and other resources digitized by libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations in the United States. The DPLA is an incredible resource for primary source material.
Search Digital Public Library of America
This website hosted by BYU features European primary historical documents that are transcribed, reproduced in facsimile, or translated. In addition, you will find video or sound files, maps, photographs or other imagery, databases, and other documentation. The sources cover a broad range of historical happenings (political, economic, social and cultural).
Library of Congress Digital Collections
The Library of Congress currently has over 2.2 million historical materials available through their online collection, including photographs, correspondence, music, manuscripts, maps, and much more. Historical materials date from the year 1000 to present from all over the world.
Search the Library of Congress Digital Collections
New York Public Library Digital Library Collections
The New York Public Library digital collections are a wealth of primary source materials related to American history, Russian history, and many more topics of research. The collection is currently at 818,274 items and counting, and includes digitized company records, early photographs and films, collections of letters, books, newspapers, and more.
Search NYPL Digital Collections
The Smithsonian Collections search center is an online catalog containing most of the Smithsonian major collections from their museums, archives, libraries, and research units. There are catalog records relating to areas for art and design, history and culture, and science and technology and includes images, videos, audio files, podcasts, blog posts and electronic journals.
Search Smithsonian Collections
Utah State Historical Research Center
The Utah State Historical Research Center is a public research facility operated by the Utah State Archives and Utah State History Divisions. This collection houses manuscripts, photographs, maps, historic state and local government documents, and more from 1850 to the present.
Search Utah State Historical Research Center
Finding Non-Digitized Primary Sources
There are many things to consider when looking for primary sources. Interlibrary loan and the Utah Academic Library lending agreement can assist with access to some primary source materials, however primary source materials that have not been digitized can be very difficult and take a long time to get access to—if they can be accessed at all.
If a primary source is not available digitally, it might be something that can be requested through interlibrary loan in microfilm or microfiche format or as a special request scan from a lending library. These requests can take several weeks to several months to be filled.
Primary sources come in a wide range of mediums and formats, some of which are too fragile for scanning or circulation through interlibrary loan. It may not be possible to get access to non-digitized primary sources unless they are available locally.
WorldCat is helpful for locating primary source materials. This site lets you search for books, articles, videos, and other materials that are available in libraries worldwide. If you are doing in-depth research on a topic and are considering requesting resources through interlibrary loan, WorldCat can help you discover resources that might not be in the Giovale Library collection. It can also show you what may be available at local libraries, such as the University of Utah.
Properly citing your sources shows that you’ve done research to become knowledgeable about your topic and helps you avoid plagiarism. Explore citation resources to learn how to correctly cite sources based on style.
Need help with your research?
Get in touch with:
Liaison Librarian for History
Librarians are happy to answer questions via email, phone, or in-person.
Contact Reese with a question or to schedule a research help appointment.
Faculty: Contact Reese to suggest edits to this research guide.
Chat with a Librarian
Use the chat box below to ask the library staff a question. If chat is unavailable or we don’t respond quickly, please use the email form on our Get Research Help page and a library staff member will contact you as soon as we are available.