HIST 200 Library Lab / Research Trails 1

Lab in class on Wednesday 4 September 2013. Research Trails 1 due electronically by Wednesday 11 September 2013.

Selecting a topic and crafting research questions

Rationale, significance

Primary vs. secondary vs. tertiary source


Keyword vs. subject search

Identifying arguments/thesis statements

Research Trails 1

a) Topic

Task (a). Briefly describe your tentative topic (150-200 words). Remember that it can be very broad at this moment, but you will have to narrow (chronologically, geographically, and/or conceptually) as we moved toward the final project. Be sure to think aloud, as it were, about the different trajectories the project could take; what research questions you have in mind as of this moment; and why you find this topic to be compelling. Remember that it should relate (somehow!) to our theme of Colonial Encounters and the Making of the Modern World, 1550-1900.

b) Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, and Reference Materials

Reference books are useful for background material on most topics.  You are probably familiar with general knowledge encyclopedias, such as Encyclopedia Britannica or Wikipedia.  These are often useful for basic background information.  Specialist encyclopedias and dictionaries are more narrowly focused volumes with articles written by experts in their fields.  They often include brief bibliographies that can lead you to other books, articles, and archival collections. Some sample specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias are listed below to get you start; as you develop your topic, you may want to seek out others.

Visit the reference section at G.R. Little Library (on the second floor). You can search the ECSU reference collection by using the online library catalog and selecting “ECSU Reference Collection” as the collection. You will begin your research by looking for background information on your topic. Browse the indexes, and read a few articles. Look at their bibliographies. If you cannot find any articles on your specific topic, look for more general ones.

Task (b).  Locate two subject encyclopedias or dictionaries. Record their bibliographic information and call numbers. Look up one entry that you think might be relevant to your proposed topic in EACH encyclopedia/dictionary, and then summarize them.  You should have two summaries.     

Nicholas Canny, The Oxford Handbook of the Atlantic World, c.1450-c.1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). D210 .O94 2011

Peter C. Mancall, Envisioning America : English Plans for the Colonization of North America, 1580-1640 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995). E127 .E59 1995

Peter Ripley, The Black Abolitionist Papers (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985). E449 .B624 1985 248581

Adolphus Ward, The Cambridge History of British Foreign Policy (New York: Octagon Books, 1970). DA45 .W35 1970 V.1-3

Online: World History in Context; Dictionary of North Carolina Biography; Encyclopedia of North Carolina

c) Search Terms

Task (c):  Based on your reading in the specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias, come up with a minimum of seven (7) of keywords, subjects, or search terms for your project. Continue to update and revise them as you work through the other components of this activity. Crafting relevant and specific keywords will help you more easily locate the most useful sources for your project. Remember that searching is a process of trial and error. Broaden or narrow your focus. Look at library catalog entries for helpful examples. Familiarize yourself with how materials are categorized in different databases and catalogs. Start with our library catalog: , and experiment with subject and keyword searches (To see the difference, try to enter “Great Britain – emigration and immigration” as “subject starts with.” Then try a “keyword search” using “British” and “immigration”).

Example: If I was researching the British Cape Colony during the 19th century, I might try to enter terms such as: Cape Colony, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa, Xhosa, Zulu, Khoesan (Khoi, San), nineteenth century immigration, (Great) Britain, British Empire.

Try using proper nouns (people, places, etc.), periods/centuries, and themes.

Write down your seven search terms.  Draw on them for this next step and note which ones get you to useful sources and which do not.

d) Finding Sources

Task (d): Using the search terms you have developed, find one source relevant to your research project from each of the following catalogs/databases, and cite it using the correct bibliographic form (refer to Purdue OWL’s guide to Chicago Manual Style). One (1) of the sources must be a primary source (for a quick review of the difference between primary and secondary sources, refer to URL: Note the search term you used (and whether you were doing a keyword or subject search).  Also write down any search terms you used but did not find any relevant sources.  If you revised any of your searches and were successful, make a note of that.

Remember that sources (particularly secondary ones) that are not specifically on the subject of your research can still help you conceptualize and better understand your own topic. For example, books about colonial empires/encounters elsewhere might help you make sense of your subjects’ own encounter with empire.

Access History-specific databases available to ECSU students. Most resources are available off-campus using your ECSU email name and password.

Access ECSU’s useful LibGuide for historical research.

Access ECSU’s journal finder (search for American Historical Review).

Access ECSU’s Interlibrary Loan Request form. Also be aware that Distance Learning students can request that books be mailed to them using this form.

Locate a relevant source in each of the following databases:

1. ECSU G.R. Little Library Catalog (URL:

2. WorldCat/Library Express (URL:
Locate a book or resource that ECSU does not own. Note that books in the University of North Carolina system are readily available for lending. Other institutions are often willing to loan books and sometimes microfilm. Use the ILL form to request.

3. Academic Search Complete (Use History-specific databases)

4. ArchiveGrid (Use History-specific databases)

5. DigitalNC (Use History-specific databases)

6. Google Books (URL: or Google Scholar (URL:

7. (URL:

e. Crafting Research Questions

Task (e): Define three questions you hope to answer through your research. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible. Remember that the more precise your research questions are, the more manageable and well-crafted your paper will be. It is very early in the research process, and your questions very well may change!

Sample: How did the African-American educational experience in the 19th century compare to that of other “colonized” peoples (e.g. South Africa, New Zealand)? In what ways were the stakeholders, goals, and experiences similar and/or different? Is a comparison a useful one, or are the particular circumstances and contexts too different?

f) Primary Source

Task (f). Bring (a copy of) one textual primary source you found to class. It might be a a diary entry or letter from a published collection, a newspaper article, etc. E-mail me if you have trouble locating a relevant primary source. You should come to class prepared to discuss your primary source: how you would evaluate it as a historical source and how it might be useful to your research project.

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