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History Research Guide

A general reference guide for History faculty, staff and students. This includes resources for historiography and historical research.

What are secondary sources?

Secondary sources are works that provide commentary on historical events.  They are typically written by scholars and incorporate primary source documentation in order to analyze and interpret past events. Most historians publish their work in books. So, for many topics in history, your best starting point is a good recent scholarly book. 

To find historiographic essays, books, and articles, consult our Online Catalog, WorldCat and journal article databases (such as Historical Abstracts & Full Text), by using "historiography" as a Subject term. 

To find book-length bibliographies on a topic in library catalogs, use the advanced search to look for "bibliography" as a Subject and your topic as a Keyword.

Finding Books

Finding Journal Articles

MSU has a full range of databases to search for journal articles. These are a few to get you started. See below for additional resources.

Indexes and Databases

For a full list of databases, click hereYou must be a current MSU faculty/staff member or student to access these resources.

Browsing by Call Number

History as a general subject can be found in the Cs, Ds, and Fs in MSU's Libraries.

History collections will generally be in three areas. Circulating Books will be located on the Third Floor of Mitchell Memorial Library in the A-N call number range (on the north side of the building). Audio-Visual Media will be located in the Digital Media Center on the Second Floor, behind Einstein Bros. Bagel/Food for Thought. Reference Books will be located in the Research Services Department on the Second Floor to the left of the Drill Field entrance. You can go to the  LC Class lists and click on the relevant subclass for a more in-depth call number outline.

While the main subject of "History" is classified as in Classes C, D, E and F, every discipline has its own history, and therefore may be classified within that discipline. For instance, agriculture would fall under Class S; the history of general agriculture would fall under subclass S419-482. There is also a separate subclass for plant culture history, animal culture history, etc.

Searching by Keyword

There are two types of searching in the catalog. Advanced Search uses keyword searching to find your search term anywhere in the catalog record, and is useful when you are searching for any material about a topic. Exact Search is most useful when you know what you are looking for; either a specific author, a title, or a subject.

Other tips when searching:

  • Boolean Logic: use AND, OR, or NOT to group search terms together and expand or narrow your search results.
  • Subject Headings: use Subject Searches (either Exact or Browse) to find database-specific terms that demonstrate what the work is about. Also, in a catalog record, use the "Subject Terms" to find other works indexed in the same subject.
  • Truncation: use the asterisk (*) to search using root words. For "histor*" you get "history"; "historians"; "historiography", etc.