Doing historical research requires some special considerations. There are two main types of resources you might need to find.
1. Primary Sources: Photographs, artwork, newspaper articles, diary entries, government documents, etc. that were created during a historical event are called primary sources. For example, Caroline Henderson's letters to friends and family describe daily life on a farm during the Dust Bowl. Primary sources give us valuable insight into how people thought about events while they were happening.
2. Secondary Sources: Scholarly articles and books analyzing or describing historical events are secondary sources. Many times, these are written long after an event by people who did not personally experience it. Writers of secondary sources have often referred to many primary sources to form a global rather than personal view of an event.
Depending on your assignment, you may be looking for both primary and secondary sources. Both types of resources are important to helping us understand history. Consult the tabs on this guide to help you find the sources you need. Primary sources can be collected and published as a book, digitized in a database, or collected in an online archive. You may need to search multiple places to find what you need.
If you have any questions as you are working on your research paper, please remember that you have access to resources to assist you.
The quality of your history research depends on the quality of your sources. Use the 5 criteria of the CAARP Test to help you choose credible sources, but remember that there will be some differences in evaluating history resources compared to other types of research.
Currency: Primary resources were created during your history event, so the usual 5 years or newer rule of thumb does not apply to them. They may have been published at any time between the historical event and today. Newer secondary sources that incorporate the most recent research are preferred.
Authority: Primary sources may be created by anyone who experienced the event. Secondary sources should be written by history experts who have advanced knowledge or experience in studying history.
Accuracy: Secondary sources that have been peer-reviewed are preferred. It is harder to gauge the accuracy of primary sources that are personal, such as letters and diary entries, but this can be offset by using a variety of sources.
Relevancy: You ideally want to find sources that are appropriate for a college-level paper and support the main point of your paper. You need to choose scholarly resources with an identifiable author over popular websites or videos.
Purpose: Bias in history can be present in many ways, some of which are more subtle than overt political motivations, such as the absence of the experiences and voices of certain groups. Consulting a variety of sources can help mitigate bias.
Ask a Librarian if you need help finding sources or determining which you should use!