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United States History

Customized guides to research for specific HIS courses

We cannot run away from asking questions, because it is only by raising and answering questions that we arrive at truth

"The training of the intellect was meant to produce an intrinsic pleasure and satisfaction but it also had practical goals
of importance to the individual and the entire community, to make the humanistically trained individual eloquent and wise,
to know what is good and to practice virtue, both in private and public life."

~ Donald Kagan, In Defense of History.  NEH Jefferson Lecture, 2005.

Interrogating Sources

Sourcing ⇒  Considering a document's author and its creation

Contextualizing ⇒  Situating the document and its events in place and time

Close Reading ⇒  Reading carefully to consider what a source says and the language used to say it

Corroborating ⇒  Checking important details across multiple sources to determine points of agreement and disagreement


By carefully questioning and reading, one can begin to form an argument, supported by evidence, about what happened and why



HIS 110 and 120 classes require that students investigate historical events
and arguments through critical analysis of primary and secondary sources.

The goal is to learn and to apply methods and practices professional historians use to develop an interpretation and/or understanding of a historical event.
By careful questioning and close reading, one can begin to form an argument - supported by evidence - about what happened and why.


1) Find and interpret primary and secondary sources using disciplinary norms

2) Construct an interpretation of a historical problem, issue, or event using: 

a) primary text(s)
b) the arguments, disagreements, and conversations of scholars found in secondary sources.


• Student distinguishes types of credible sources historians use to investigate a historical problem, issue, or event.
• Student uses appropriate research tools to identify and locate a variety of credible primary and secondary
    sources relevant to the investigation of an historical problem, issue, or event.
• Student cites specific textual evidence to support an analysis of primary and secondary sources.

"Without history we are prisoners of the accident of where and when we were born." ~Donald Kagan, historian

Products of Scholarship--Journal articles, books

In developing your own interpretation of documents and texts, we must be aware of and
evaluate competing interpretations of documents

Challenge for us is to develop engaged reconstruction of the world/events referred to in a text

Evaluate interpretations of documents and events

Revise and improve our own interpretations by repeated reference back to original document(s)

Students who are familiar with a topic and its vocabulary demonstrate:

  1. greater ability to develop successful initial search strategies
  2. enhanced ability to choose the best sources from lists of search results
  3. greater success in adjusting search tactics

when you use a reference source, it’s like getting a research roadmap from an expert on the topic

Suggested Reference

Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes. American National Biography. 28 vols. Oxford University Press, 1999.  CT213 .A68 Reference Fl. 1

Boyer, Paul S., and Melvyn Dubofsky. The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford University Press, 2001. E 174 .O94 2001 Reference Fl. 1

Dictionary of American History. New York: Scribner, 1976. E 174 .D52 1976 7 vols. Reference Fl. 1

Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. AI 3 .R48 REFERENCE (begins 1925- )  


Making the Most of the Online Catalog

Library of Congress Subject Headings

°Primary Sources

Person is the Author

Jefferson, Thomas
Washington, George


au: Washington, George
au: Stanton, Elizabeth Cady


Primary Sources for a topic, time period (or person)

Syntax: [topic or person, etc.] Sources

su: Puritans Sources
su: Suffrage Sources
su: Elections Sources

su: United States Colonial period Sources
su: United States Revolutionary period Sources
su: United States Civil War Sources

n.b. remember you can find primary sources when you know the title at sites like





°Patterns for Focusing (persons and topics)

                        Syntax: [topic] Political aspects
                        Syntax: [last name] Political and social views
                        Syntax: [topic] Law and legislation


                        su: Slavery Political aspects
                        su: Jefferson Political and social views
                        su: Slavery Law and legislation

°Patterns for Social, Economic and Political Climate

                        Syntax: United States  [one of the subdivisions below]  [time frame]

                                    Politics and government
                                    Social conditions
                                    History                                                                                                                                    Time frames

                              To 1865

                              Colonial period
                              Revolutionary period
                              Constitutional period


                                    su: United States 1783-1815
                                    su: United States 1815-1861
                                    su: United States Politics and government 1815-1861
                                    su: United States Social conditions to 1865                         


° Additional Helpful Hints

                        Events (and things) have specific subject headings

                                    su: Bacon’s Rebellion
                                    su: War of 1812
                                    su: Trail of Tears       
                                    su: United States Constitution
                                    su: Bacon’s Rebellion            
                                    su: Amendments 14th                      
                                    su: Constitution Amendments 1st-10th  (use for Bill of Rights)