History Research Tutorial

Overview To begin a research project you need to consider:

  1. types of resources you will need
  2. how you will get access to those resources
  3. a strategy of attaining, recording, and creating a developed written treatment of the information found in those resources

If you were looking at your research like a lawyer taking a criminal case to trial, your secondary sources would be like character witnesses and provide circumstantial evidence.  Your primary sources would be exhibits and witnesses to the crime or elements of the crime. 

Types of resources…

Secondary sources

  • Other peoples’ research
  • Retelling of events by persons who didn’t participate in, witness nor live in the time of the event

Primary sources

 

  • First-hand or contemporary accounts (letters, diaries, correspondence, municipal records)
  • Photographs, maps, sketches, etc.

Helpful links:

Good research relies on good sources and credible sources; this means you need primary sources. 

You must also consider the context of your sources.  A popular U.S. book about communism from the 1950s may not give one the most objective perspective on communism but it will give insight on period opinion.  Similarly, a letter documenting wrongs by a corporation written by a recently fired employee might need to substantiated before it was taken as fact but it will provide insight on that employee’s state of mind.


Access to resources…

Secondary sources

  • WestSearch for books and other media.  WestSearch lists what’s on our shelves, the other CSUs, the State Library’s and State community colleges’ shelves.  It will also search through our scholarly journals, book reviews, Newspapers.  Many of these articles are available electronically but some are physically on the shelves of the library.

Helpful links:

Helpful links:

  • Using Interlibrary Loan (ILL) – if you find something through WorldCat, you can get the material sent here via what’s known as ILL which has its own system for processing requests called ILLIAD.  It’s easy and puts nearly any source in your book bag or on your machine in a week or less.
  • Web sources

Helpful links:

Primary sources

  • WestSearch. Sometimes first-hand or contemporary accounts are contained in books and journals
  • Archives and special collections.  Most universities, colleges, towns, cities, historical societies and museums have some sort of archive. These archives many times contain and will allow you to view unpublished letters, photos, media, corporate records, municipal records.  Many of these archives, like the one at WCSU, have their holdings listed on the Web.

Helpful links:


Strategy

Time

  • Spend 15 minutes on a computer “Google-ing” your topic and looking at WestSearch to see if you find anything pertinent.  If you can’t find anything, maybe rethink your topic based on what you do find.
  • Take notes on what you find.  Print out catalog records and write what you find in that source on the back or staple notes together with catalog record printouts.  This will help when making footnotes and assembling your bibliography. Estimate the amount of time you will need to spend based on how long it takes you to find and annotate one secondary source and one primary source.  Then you should budget your time accordingly.
  • When Xeroxing portions from books, make a copy of the book’s title page and staple it to the copies.  This will save you time and effort.

Other people have likely written on your topic

  • USE BIBLIOGRAPHIES/FOOTNOTES from secondary sources to find other secondary sources and primary sources.  This will save you LOTS of time, and likely the writer of the piece you are looking at did the same thing.

Your research should go from very general to specific