three things to know 
about doing research in

history 001e:
past and present in latin america

Sarah Elichko

Social Sciences Librarian  9/11/14

What we'll talk about today:

1. How to find the scholarly conversation

2. How to make scholarly databases give you what you want

3. What primary sources are and how to find them

part one

Finding the Scholarly Conversation on your Topic

So what is the "scholarly conversation" anyway?

Historians have interpreted events in the Latin America from a variety of different viewpoints.

Generally, historians will reference one another's work (on similar topics) in their writings. This back-and-forth discussion can be referred to as the scholarly conversation on the topic.

Why does this matter?

Analysis of scholarly interpretations, known generally as historiography, can give more nuance to your arguments and provide a greater context for your understanding. 

It's often easier to get a map of the scholarly debate before going out and searching for individual books and articles on the topic you're researching.

Things to look for:

Questions discussed by scholars in your discipline

Arguments made by scholars

Overall trends and patterns in the scholarship
(look for words like "strand," "turn," and "school of thought")

Major scholars and works
(including influential books and articles)

How do you find the areas of scholarly conversation?

  • Reference sources (e.g. encyclopedias, handbooks)

  • Book reviews and review articles

  • Bibliographies from dissertations prepared by History graduate students.

  • Careful reading of journal articles, books, & book reviews
    (look for references to "the literature" on a topic as well as references to other scholarly books and articles)

Let's take a look at some examples linked from the Research Guide for this course.

(Open a web browser and go to The Dash.)

Before moving on, let's recap what we've learned about the scholarly conversation.

By finding sources that discuss the historiography of your topic, you can contextualize your research question.

Find areas of scholarly conversation by using reference sources, book reviews, review articles, dissertation bibliographies, careful reading, and your professors.

Identify major scholars and relevant scholarly works.

part two

How to make scholarly databases give you what you want

(relevant books, articles, and book reviews)

There are three parts to finding the scholarly articles and books that you need:

  • Search in the right database. (e.g. JSTOR, Tripod)

  • Brainstorm search terms and try various combinations.

  • Learn how to use advanced search tools to most effectively combine your terms.

1. Different information resources let you find different kinds of information.

JSTOR, Project Muse

journal articles and ebooks from many academic disciplines


books in the library and journal articles from many disciplines

Historical Abstracts

journal articles and book reviews by historians

You don't need to memorize all of these resources.

Use the Research Guide to identify the best places to look for scholarly articles, books, and book reviews.

Let's take a look at the Research Guide again.

2. Unlike Google, academic databases only search for the terms you provide.

  • What are synonyms and related words for your topic?

  • Do scholars refer to your topic using particular language? What is that language? 

  • Do the terms referring to my topic change depending on the political or social beliefs of the speaker?
    • e.g. "pro-choice" vs. "anti-choice" vs. "pro-life"

3. Scholarly databases and Tripod don't know how to combine your search terms.

You need to use Advanced Search strategies to make more precise requests.

Historical Abstracts and America, History and Life offer particularly useful advanced search options aimed at historians, e.g. the ability to search by the dates discussed in an article in addition to the publication date.

Let's try a search list in Historical Abstracts (to find journal articles and book reviews).

Go to the Research Guide for this course.

Click on the tab for Scholarly Articles.

Click the S next to Historical Abstracts.

To recap:

Choose the right database or catalog depending on the kind of information you need.

Create a list of search terms to cover all of your bases.

Use Advanced Search strategies to combine your search terms effectively.

part three:

What are primary sources, and how do you find them?

For a quick overview of primary sources, let's look at the relevant section of the Research Guide.

Research Guide

Primary Sources tab

What are Primary Sources?

Tips for finding primary sources:

What question(s) are you asking?

What is your ideal source?

If you could interview anyone from the time and place you're studying, who would you interview?  (This could be a specific person or a more general description.)

What evidence might they have left behind?

But where do you actually go to look at these sources?

The Research Guide for this course...

The search term lists you've created will probably be useful for searching for primary sources, too.

Let's try looking through a few links that point to primary sources related to Latin American history.

Feel free to make an appointment to get help

with your research.

Office hours at the McCabe Research & Info Desk - Fall 2014:

Mondays, 3-5 PM
Wednesdays, 1-3 PM

Other times by appointment, selichk1 [at]