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HIST 199: FYS History

Research guide for HIST 199: FYS History.


An encyclopedia article is often the best place to look when you need to know the context of a situation, the basic outlines of a person’s life, or why a place is important. Encyclopedia articles are a great first step as they provide background material to help your understanding of the historical events. These are not materials to base your research papers on, but they can provide you with the knowledge and vocabulary necessary to search for more substantive material.

A good encyclopedia article is written (and signed) by an expert on the subject and represents the consensus of scholarly opinion. A good encyclopedia article should also have a short bibliography on the subject of each article, a list of sources for further reading.

Wikipedia can be an excellent source to identify important individuals, check key dates, or double-check facts. Because Wikipedia articles are not typically associated with subject experts, they are not recommended to be used as sources for history papers, but rather for checking key information.

To find encyclopedias

Go to the relevant Subject Guide for the topic of your course, and click "Getting Started".


A recent scholarly book is not only a good starting point for your research, but it is also one of the best places to find more secondary and primary sources.

Keyword searching

Use the Catalogue to find scholarly books by keyword searching. Most books you will find fall into this category. You can limit the results of your searches to books by selecting "Book" from the format menu on the left side of your list of search results.


Subject Headings

One useful way is to find the appropriate subject headings. Subject headings bring group items about similar topics together (think: #hashtags). The best subject headings to use are usually the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

Begin by keyword searching in the Catalogue, or searching for a book you already know is relevant to your topic. Then look at the records for the books you find and locate the subject headings (see below). Each subject heading is a hyperlink that acts like a hashtag -- you can click on it to find other books on the same topic. 

Scholarly articles

To find scholarly articles based on your topic, first identify the best article database to search. The two most common for history are:

  1. America: History and Life for topics on North America, pre-history to the present
  2. Historical Abstracts, all areas of the world except North America, 1450 to the present

For other topics, such as ancient history, or to discover what other databases may be useful, consult the relevant History Subject Guide.

All the journals indexed in these indexes are scholarly ones, but not all items are peer-reviewed. Consider checking the box for Peer Reviewed to make sure your results are all peer-reviewed.

Subject Headings

As with books, one useful way is to find the appropriate subject headings used by the index. Subject headings are useful because they bring all the articles on a given subject together, regardless of the keywords in the articles' title or abstract.

One way to approach subject headings is to start with some words you know to be appropriate for your topic. Look at the “full record” for the articles you find. What are the subject headings? Which of the headings on the records is the most appropriate for the aspects of your topic that you want to study? Click on that heading to search for more articles tagged with the same subject.

Historical Period Limiter

The Historical Period limiter in America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts are very useful. Use this feature to narrow down your search by selecting the time period you are studying:

Book Reviews

One type of article to beware of is book reviews. While these can be very interesting and will tell you a lot about the subject and the specific book they are reviewing, a book review is not an article about a subject; it is an article about a book, and that is a different matter. Consider excluding book reviews when searching for a peer-reviewed article.

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