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A collection of research resources for the study of History.

Liaison Librarian: Malinda Triller Doran, 717-245-1462

For general information regarding the process of historical research click here.

To find more information regarding resourcing for particular regions or topics in history, click on one of the blue markers on the map below.

View History Guide in a larger map


Important Information about the Research Process

What Is a Good Source?

During the course of your research, it is important to consult a variety of sources, including print and online. On-line resources are convenient in that they can be accessed outside the library, but they do not represent the complete range of information available in any discipline. Many of the rich resources owned by the Library, both primary and secondary, are available in print. Your liaison can help you locate appropriate resources for your topic.

Some sources you discover may not be available in Dickinson's collection. When beginning the research process, be sure to build in enough time to order materials through Interlibrary Loan. Most, but not all, requested items will arrive within 5 - 7 work days.

A good researcher is defined by the willingness and ability to follow leads and being able to evaluate a source for its reliability and usefulness. Clues to important and reliable information come from many places. Secondary sources are often good places to start the research project, as their footnotes and bibliographies can provide you with leads to primary sources and other important secondary works.

How to Start Looking for Sources


Developing a list of keywords for your project is vital for your bibliographic search, for your note taking and for shaping your final paper. A keyword is simply an important word or short phrase relating to your research. Keywords can be a person's name, a book title, a place, an organization or a subject. You can often use keywords to conduct a search of the Dickinson College Library Catalog, a subject database, or a printed index. As you begin to reseearch your topic, you will discover additional keywords that describe your subject.

Subject Headings

A subject heading is a specific word or phrase used to find and organize books and articles by topic. Subject headings are different from keywords in that they are specific terms assigned to a subject by an organization. For example, the Library of Congress supplies subject headings for books owned by Dickinson College (and other libraries), and the company that provides the Art Abstracts database supplies subject headings for the articles indexed in that database.
These subject headings, also known as subject descriptors, may not be what you would expect. You might, for instance, go to our catalog and search for autobiographies. The Library of Congress often uses the term "personal narrative' instead of autobiography.
Library of Congress Subject headings can often be found on the page of a book that provides the publisher's information. The subject heading can then be used to search for a book or article when copied exactly as printed. Another way to figure out what the key words or subject descriptors are for your subject would be to enter the title of a book on the subject that is in our library. Then look at the bottom of the record and find the subject descriptors.
In the library catalog and many electronic databases, an items's subject(s) will be hyperlinked, so that you can click on the subject heading to find similar items. You also might want to note the exact words for future use.

This is an example of a book in the library catalog with numerous subject headings:

Personal author: Dyer, Christopher, 1944-

Title: Making a living in the middle ages : the people of Britain 850-1520 / Christopher Dyer.

Publication info: New Haven : Yale University Press, c2002.

Physical description: x, 403 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm.

Series: (The new economic history of Britain) General note: Paperback edition.

Bibliography note: Includes bibliographical references (p. [366]-389) and index.

Subject: Cities and towns--Great Britain--History--To 1500.

Subject: Social classes--Great Britain--History--To 1500.

Subject: Social change--Great Britain--History--to 1500.

Subject: Working class--Great Britain--History--To 1500.

Subject: Industries--Great Britain--History--To 1500.

Subject: Middle Ages.

Subject: Great Britain--Economic conditions.

Subject: Great Britain--History--Medieval period, 1066-1485.

Subject: Great Britain--Population--History--To 1500.

Subject: England--Economic conditions--1066-1485.

Subject: England--Social conditions--1066-1485.

Subject: Scotland--Economic conditions.

Subject: Wales--Economic conditions.

Subject: Great Britain--Social conditions.

Expanding or Narrowing Your Search

Words such as AND, OR, and NOT are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow a search in an electronic database. AND will narrow your search; for example, the search "cats AND dogs" returns items that contain both the terms cats and dogs (both terms must appear in the record). OR will broaden your search; for example, the search "cats OR dogs" will return items that contain either the term cat or the term dog - both not necessarily both. NOT will exclude specific items, thereby narrowing your search slightly. For example, the search "medieval history and (Italy NOT Florence)" will exclude any items on medieval history dealing with the city of Florence, but will include any other books or articles written about medieval history in the rest of Italy.

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries (Tertiary Sources)

Encyclopedias and dictionaries are helpful in finding basic information about your topic area. They may also serve as sources of inspiration to you as you search for new topics to research. The following list is not comprehensive. Search the Dickinson College Library Catalog for more encyclopedias and dictionaries. Contact your librarian for assistance.


The Annals of America
REF E173 .A793

A Dictionary of American History
REF E174 .P87 1995 Also Available Online.

The Reader's Companion to American History
Available Online.


Includes almost 500 encyclopedic titles from respected publishers in all disciplines taught at Dickinson, including many volumes covering history, biography, politics, geography country studies, and much more.

Search Credo Reference below or navigate to Credo Reference via the link above.

Credo Reference

Secondary Sources

A secondary source is a document which is derived from, or based on, study and analysis of primary sources. These are works that are not original manuscripts or contemporary records, but which critique, comment on, or build upon these primary sources. They interpret and analyze primary sources and provide the background necessary to understand the primary sources. A secondary source may be printed or online and can include reviews, criticism, editorials, analyses, encyclopedias, textbooks, histories, and commentaries. Most scholarly journal articles are secondary sources which provide analysis, interpretation, or evaluation.

A database organizes information about the locations of articles, book chapters, and book reviews. Databases provide the complete citation of each article, including the title of the article, author, title of the journal, volume and issue numbers, the pages of the journal in which the article can be found, and a short summary, of the article. Some databases do NOT provide the instant full-text access to the articles, so be sure to click the GET IT!
button to see if Dickinson has the article you want elsewhere in the library.


Dickinson's Library Catalog

Use the Dickinson College Library Catalog to search for books that the Dickinson College library owns. Once you find a book you want, you will need to print or write down the call number for the item in order to locate it on the shelves.

In our library, books that are available for checkout are located on two floors of the library. You will find all books with call numbers beginning with A through F on the east wing of the main level of the library. All books with call numbers beginning with G through Z are located on the third floor. All reference books (non-circulating dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.) are located on the main level of the library behind the computer workstation area.

The Waidner-Spahr Library's map will help you find your way around.

You may perform a basic keyword search below or navigate to the Library Catalog to perform an advanced search.

Catalog Keyword Search 

Library of Congress Classification System

At Waidner-Spahr library, we organize and shelve our materials using the Library of Congress (LC) Classification System. The call numbers of books shelved according to this system always start with one or two letters, and are completed with a mix of decimal and ordinal numbers and more letters. For example, call numbers beginning with D always denote materials that belong to the General History and History of Europe categories. More specifically, call numbers beginning with DA always denote materials dealing with Great Britain. To see the complete LC classification outline, follow this link: Library of Congress Classification Outline.

An example of a typical call number is this:

DA197 .F57 2004 - for the book entitled Kings and Lords in Conquest England

History books are generally found in sections C through E.


WorldCat is a database that allows you to search library catalogs around the world. It opens up to you a much broader range of material on any topic. Books found in WorldCat that are not owned by Dickinson College can be ordered through our interlibrary loan (EZBorrow) system.

Journals and Journal Articles

Journals are publications that are printed on a regular basis - usually monthly, weekly, or semi-annually. Journals are also known as periodicals or, more simply, magazines. Dickinson College owns approximately 10,000 journal titles, approximately 8,000 of which are electronic and the remaining 2,000 in print.

An index or database is the tool to use when you are looking for articles that have been published in scholarly journals. Indexes are books, which are usually arranged alphabetically by subject; online databases, can be searched in a variety of ways (by keyword or author, for example). The regional sections available via the map will suggest the most appropriate sources to use for your specific article search. The Dickinson College Library does not own every journal covered in every index. You may have to use ILLIAD (interlibrary loan) to obtain an article.

Scholarly vs. Popular

Your professors at Dickinson usually require you to use scholarly journals for your research. A scholarly journal has a narrow subject focus. The articles are written by experts in the field who are conducting original research, or writing reviews or essays; and the articles are often reviewed by the author's peers. Articles in scholarly journals may include bibliographies (citations to books and articles) and abstracts (short summaries of the article). Scholarly journals usually have a serious "look," including few if any advertisements, and those that are in the journal usually pertain to scholarly books, databases, and other products relevant to the discipline; or job openings in the field. Any pictures included will be directly relevant to the article, and should display a caption explaining what the picture is and where it comes from. Scholarly journals may include graphs, charts, or diagrams that help the reader better understand the content of the articles. Scholarly journals are usually available only by subscription.

Scholarly journals may have the additional requirement of being peer-reviewed, which means that a panel of experts will review all articles submitted for publication.

A popular magazine is meant for entertainment or informational purposes. Authors are usually professional writers, but not experts in any particular scholarly field. Magazines will include lots of photographs and advertisements. The subject material will be wider in scope than that of most scholarly journals. Popular magazines usually do not contain bibliographies or abstracts. These are the types of periodicals you can find in a grocery store or at a newsstand.

Journal Locator

The Journal Locator is a searchable, alphabetic list of all the journals that Dickinson College owns in any format. The Journal Locator will tell you what issues of each journal we own.

To search for journals dealing with history, first access the Journal Locator. Change the selection box under "Browse Journals by Subject" from "--Please select a subject category--" to "Humanities and Reference." Then click on "History" or any of the specific sub-catgories under history. Most of the databases will allow you to perform a search within each individual journal once you choose one.

Search here to find out if we have print or online access to particular journals, newspapers, or magazines.

Example searches:
  • New York Times
  • Nature
  • Journal of Philosophy
Find journals by title or ISSN

Browse journals by subject

Most of the printed journals owned by Dickinson College are located on the lower level of the Library, east wing (the side closest to the HUB). Journals are arranged in alphabetical order by title. Digital journals are available by clicking the links in the journal locator that indicate the date range you are seeking. When you locate a journal title, be sure to read the details to make sure we own the specific issue or years you need.

Databases (Finding Journal Articles)

A database organizes information about the locations of articles, book chapters, and book reviews. Databases provide the complete citation of each article, including the title of the article, author, titleof the journal, volume and issue numbers, the pages of the journal in which the article can be found, and a short summary, of the article. Some databases do NOT provide the instant full-text access to the articles, so be sure to click the Get It! button to see if Dickinson has the article you want elsewhere in the library.

If Dickinson does not own a copy of the journal you are seeking, you can order the article you need through interlibrary loan (ILLIAD).

United States History (General Sources)

If you haven't searched America: History & Life for a US history paper, you haven't done your research. America: History and Life covers scholarly literature on North American history, from prehistoric times to the present, with articles in the database published between 1964 to present.


World History (General Sources)

If you haven't searched Historical Abstracts for a non-US history paper, you haven't done your research. This database covers all aspects of world history, except the United States and Canada, from 1450 to the present, with articles in the database published between 1964 to present.


Multi-Disciplinary Databases that Address History

Covers journal articles in the humanities, archaeology, art, classics, film, folklore, history, journalism and communications, linguistics, literature, music, performing arts, and religion.
A bibliographic database that cites articles from English-language periodicals. Coverage includes a wide range of interdisciplinary fields covered in a broad array of humanities and social sciences journals.
Project Muse covers numerous subject fields in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, including history. Journals covered by Project Muse are scholarly and peer-reviewed, published by a not-for-profit press or scholarly society, and be a sensible fit with titles in the humanities, the social sciences and the arts.

Primary Sources

A primary source is an account by an eyewitness or the first recorder of an event - or documents produced at the time an event occurred. A primary source may be printed or electronic material and can include diaries, letters, memoirs, personal papers, public documents, field research reports, minutes of meetings, news footage, newspaper articles, speeches, oral histories. Primary source material can also include creative works such as poetry, music, or art, and artifacts such as stone points, pottery, furniture, and buildings. Dickinson College owns primary material in fields such as Native American and scientific history, and also has many indexes and databases which will help you locate primary material.

The Finding Primary Sources page has plenty of suggestions for locating published primary sources. Consult with Archives & Special Collections for information on locating Dickinson-related primary sources and other non-published primary material.


This is the best place to begin a search for information about people. It is an index of reference sources containing biographical information on individuals, both living and deceased, from every field of activity and from all areas of the world. This index is not full-text, but Dickinson College owns many of the materials referenced in the database. A librarian can help you locate any materials you are having trouble locating.
Nearly 20,000 biographies, revised three times per year.
Biographies of people who shaped the British Isles.
Includes current and historical biographies, as well as many other historical encyclopedias.


More information about accessing recent national and international newspapers can be found on the library's Newspaper Research Guide.

Full-text copies of articles and images from the Atlanta Constitution; Atlanta Daily World; Boston Globe; Chicago Tribune; Los Angeles Sentinel; New York Amsterdam News; Pittsburgh Courier; The Chicago Defender; The New York Times; The Washington Post. Coverage varies by paper but goes back as far as 1851.
Lexis-Nexis contains 10-year access to national international newspapers.

Atlases & Maps


Atlas of World War I
REF G1037 .G5 1994

The Times Atlas of the Second World War
REF G1038 .T6 1989


Includes virtual historical tours, including ancient Rome, world capitals, military sites, a U.S. Civil War tour, and tours of many other famous sites. Requires software download.

Writing a Thesis

For instructions on crafting a quality thesis statement, see Writing a Good Thesis Statement, prepared by Associate Professor of History, Matthew Pinsker.