This guide will help you find secondary sources in history. (Click on the tabs above for more information.)
Secondary sources are the books, journal articles, and other materials that historians write by using primary source materials, such as contemporary newspaper or magazine accounts, memoirs, government documents, etc. For assistance with locating primary sources see http://guides.ou.edu/primarysources.
A Note About Keywords
Before you do any searching in the catalog or a database, brainstorm a list of keywords that describe your topic.
- Consider synonyms
- woman vs. female
- Consider alternate spellings
- labor vs. labour
- 16th century vs. sixteenth century
- Consider broader and narrower terms
- Great Britain vs. England
Reference materials may help you identify keywords. See the tab above!
Be aware of problems you may encounter:
- Homonyms. Remember databases and catalogs match characters, not concepts.
- For example, the word "China," is it a country or a set of dishes? The computer can't tell!
- Sometimes there is no universally agreed upon term or phrase for a concept.
- For example, middle ages vs. medieval, Native American vs. Indian, motion picture vs. movie vs film.
- Older works may use language that is considered offensive today.
The database (or catalog) you are searching may help you choose keywords, because many of them systematically assign subject headings to all works listed within them. Look for the "subject terms" or "descriptors" in the record of a book or an article. These tell you what the preferred term is in a database/catalog and can sometimes help you choose other words to search.
For example, this is a screen shot from the library's catalog:
Once you've chosen your keywords, think about how the computer will interpret them.
- For example (as of June 25, 2014) the library's catalog will find different numbers of results for these two searches:
- economic depression = 161 results, while
- economic and depression = 400+results.
- The reason: if you put two or more words in the search box and do not put in any kind of connecting word, the catalog assumes you want the words to be in the same field, such as the title field, or subject field.
All databases/catalogs have software that makes assumptions about the search you are doing. If you aren't finding what you what you need, maybe something as simple as adding the word "and" to your search will increase your results.
The secret to choosing keywords and to using databases is to be flexible and patient. If a word or search doesn't work, try a different word (or words) or try doing a slightly different search (like adding an "and" between the words).
See the library's tutorials for more detailed information: http://libraries.ou.edu/help/tutorials/.