Strategies & Tools for History 91 Research


Celia Caust-Ellenbogen

Associate Curator,

Friends Historical Library



Simon Elichko

Social Sciences & Data Librarian


Today's workshop:

  • Finding secondary sources
  • Learning how to search more intentionally
  • Exploring primary sources
  • Experience working with archival materials
  • Tips for organizing your research


  • I'm looking for both primary and secondary sources
  • I have a good range of primary sources, still need more secondary
  • I have a good range of secondary sources, still need more primary
  • I think I'm all set with the sources I have
  • I'm overwhelmed by the available material

Finding Secondary Sources

Key resource: History 91 Research Guide


Getting Started > Background Reading

Find Scholarly Books & Articles

Useful tools for finding
secondary sources

Library catalogs

  • Tripod  (TriCo Libraries)
  • Worldcat  (many libraries in US and beyond)


History-focused databases

General-purpose academic databases

  • Project Muse

Library Catalogs
Best for finding books and periodicals

1. Let's try looking up a book you've already  

    found for your project in Tripod  

    (  and in
    Worldcat (

2. What do you see listed under Subjects in    

    Tripod? And in Worldcat?

3. Try searching Tripod for other books with one

    of the same Subjects.

Tri-College Consortium

E-Z Borrow
Academic libraries
in PA, NJ, NY

Worldcat & Interlibrary Loan

Libraries all over
the world

   Penn      Drexel     Temple     NYU      Rutgers

  Swat          Haverford      Bryn Mawr

 Oxford              Columbia              Sciences Po  

Harvard       Stanford     Museum of Natural History

Library resource networks: TriCo and beyond

key point: you can access this wider network, not just our local resources

  • EZBorrow
    • Books only
    • If a book isn't available in Tripod, search here next.
    • Delivered to McCabe, usually takes ~1 week
  • Interlibrary Loan Form
    • Use to request books that aren't in EZBorrow, microfilm (e.g. news, magazines), DVDs and CDs (films, TV), dissertations
    • Can take longer. Usually within 2 weeks
    • Worldcat can help you figure out what's available.
  • Article Request Form
    • Journal and news articles • receive a PDF by email, usually 1-3 days
  • Book Chapter Request Form
    • Chapters from books • receive a PDF by email, usually 1-5 days

History-focused databases
Use these to find journal articles and book reviews

Why are these databases useful?

  • They include peer-reviewed articles from history journals, as well as some articles from other related disciplines
  • You can narrow down your results by the historical time period discussed in articles
  • Connected to Tripod through the FindIt button, which makes it easier to get PDFs of articles

What do you need to know to use these tools?

How to turn a topic into useful search terms

Example:  conservative dominance of US talk radio

1. Break down the topic into a few key concepts:

  • conservative
  • radio
  • United States

2. Come up with synonyms and related terms for each.  

    Think about broader terms (e.g. broadcasting), narrower terms (e.g. Republican,
    talk radio, Rush Limbaugh), and potentially related terms (e.g. Fox News,
media, news).

  • conservative OR Republican OR Fox News OR Rush Limbaugh
  • talk OR news OR journalism
  • radio OR broadcasting

3. Fix up your search terms: use * (to expand) and "your terms" to specify exact phrases.

    conservativ* OR Republican* OR "Fox News" OR Limbaugh

    AND talk OR news OR journalis*   

    AND radio OR broadcast*


Tips for coming up with search terms

    Use the Keyword Generator to help break down your topic into core concepts and generate possible search terms.
  • Do an initial broad search to gather search term ideas.
    • What words are being used in titles, abstracts, and subjects?
  • Look at sources you already have for ideas: what words do they use?
    • If you have a book that's on-topic, look at the index.

Additional tools for secondary research

See Review Essays & Topic Overviews for links to:

  • Review journals: History Compass, Reviews in American History
  • History companions and handbooks: Cambridge Histories and others

Finding Primary Sources

popular media

(news, magazines, radio, tv, web, video)

📰 📻 


specialized periodicals
(trade publications, scholarly journals)



organizational records

(office memos, meeting minutes, annual reports, member newsletters, event posters)

🏢 🗒️ 📆 

online databases
websites  (current + archives e.g.

                  Wayback Machine)

in libraries and archives:
- print / physical copies
- microfilm

primary source type          where to find it

archives and special collections
online databases

plus the other resources listed above

material culture

(art, objects, buildings)

🎨 🛏️ 🕰️ 📮 🕌


government records
(reports, transcripts of hearings, speeches)

🏛️ 🇧🇷 🗣️


personal papers

(letters, diaries, scrapbooks)

💌 📔 🏷️ 🗺️  

online exhibits and collections
image databases
books (e.g. exhibit catalogs)


library collections (print, online)
online databases
websites (.gov, Hathi Trust)


archives + special collections
edited collections (books)
online exhibits and collections

online databases

primary source type           where to find it

How can I access this primary source?

Is it available immediately?
• Check Tripod (in a book or ebook? a journal or newspaper?)
• Look through Research Guides (library databases + subscriptions)

• Search online (open resources, e.g. digital exhibits from museums)
• Ask! Simon can help you figure it out.


Could it be delivered to you?
• Published item: EZBorrow, Interlibrary Loan, Article Delivery
• Unique item: scanned, photographed, copied, reprinted


Could you go to it?
• Document/object:  visit the archive, library, museum
• Online resource, behind a paywall: visit a library w/ subscription

        and a favorable visitor access policy (e.g. Temple) - ask Simon!

Useful research tools for finding primary sources:

Let's look at two example resources
for finding primary sources:

Let's try finding some primary sources
for your project.


On the Finding Primary Sources page of the Research Guide, choose a type of primary source.


Following instructions & tips on these pages, spend 5 minutes looking for source(s) relevant to your own topic.


After 5 minutes, you'll pair up with another student

and discuss what you noticed.

What did you find? What were you surprised to learn or find? What were the difficulties? Do you have any search tips to share?

Complexities of searching for historical sources...

"If, for example, I wanted to find out more about the island from which [Sir Walter] Raleigh penned his letter, what name should I keyword search? Saint Christopher, St. Christopher, Saint Christophe, St. Kitts, or San Christoval?"

Finding information on Providence Island in the AGI [Archivo General de Indias, in Sevilla] is impossible unless one knows that the Spanish referred to it as Santa Catalina."

• Multiple names +    

• Changes over time
• Varying spellings,


- Casey Schmitt, Love Letters and the Digital Turn (The Junto)

Consider keeping a list of various terms and spellings you've encountered, to help with searching.


Optical character recognition is the process of making text in images searchable (e.g. when scanning a poster).


Everyday versions of OCR: iOS and Google Keep text recognition in photos

Tools for running OCR on your documents, or for improving the quality of existing OCR:  Adobe Acrobat, ABBY FineReader (available from ITS)

     *work best with typed text; for handwritten text, print is easier than script


When you're searching through (digitized) historical sources, you're often searching text generated by OCR. This means you can't fully count on the text being accurate or complete.

Let's see what OCR-generated text looks like:

Go to --> Primary Sources --> News -->

Using Archives

Key resource: History 91 Research Guide


Index > Philadelphia-Area Collections & Archives

Archives & Manuscripts

Think "Tripod" - come to the library to view the materials

Digital Collections

Think "JSTOR" - the materials are digitized & online.

Make an appointment

What to expect from any archives visit

  • Contact the archives well in advance to make an appointment
  • Tell the archivist you are an undergraduate student - ask for help and suggestions
  • Don't bring food, drink, or pens
  • Be prepared to store your belongings in a locker
  • Ask whether it's okay to take pictures, and if it is, take LOTS of them (including of the box/folder info) to read and refer to later
  • Be gentle with the documents and make sure EVERYTHING stays in the same order

American Friends Service Committee Reference Files, RG 4/032, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.

Organizing Your Research

• Document your process

• Save consistently

• Annotate sources

Three ways to stay organized
while doing research: 

{ ideas, searches, sources }

{ done & to-do }

{ while you still remember }

Document Your Process

As you work, keep a research log.

- Today's date

- What did you do today?
- What are your next steps? (however tentative)

{ Tools }
• Google doc, Word doc, notebook, Simplenote
• Browser history, search history


Save Consistently

Be predictable
Decide on and stick to a system that is easy and reliable.

Label everything 
Include enough information so you can recognize sources at a glance.  (even a few weeks later)

Zotero - Get started: 

       -  One place to save sources + citations

       -  Sort, categorize, tag sources
       -  Generates formatted citations


Annotate Sources

Source notes
Why does this document seem (potentially) relevant?

Write it down now, while you still remember.
Add the date somewhere prominent.

Categorizing sources

It can be helpful to sort your potential sources into categories (by topic, by potential use, etc.) 

{ Tools }
• Zotero -- tags, folders  ("collections")

Coggle -- mindmaps - create groups of sources, authors


Next steps:


Other resources:

  • Use Tripod Chat to get help with quick questions
  • Stop by the Research & Info Desk in McCabe for help from librarians and RIAs.