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Newcastle University

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Subject support guide

Your subject-specific guide to using library resources.

Library Search

HIS2242: Researching history

Introduction - read this first

In this workshop, you are going to explore a selection of specialised online resources for History, to find both secondary and primary material. Start with boxes one and two below, and follow the instructions in the tasks. When you have finished, try and work through at least two other boxes of your choice, and be prepared to share your feedback at the end.

Some boxes give you specific search examples to use, but you can also try searches related to any historical topic of interest to you (for example, your potential dissertation topic.)

1. Secondary literature: beginning your search

Library Search is a good starting point for finding secondary literature (particularly books and journal articles) but it has certain limitations. 

Firstly, it covers all subject areas, from archaeology to zoology, so your searches will retrieve a huge amount of results, including many irrelevant items.

Secondly, its search options are quite limited, so you won't have much control over your search.

We provide access to a wide range of specialised secondary literature databases, which will enable you to search more effectively, particularly when researching for your dissertation. You can find them all on your library subject guide, but for today's workshop, we'll just focus on two. 

Try the following, using the links to the two databases at the bottom of this box.  

Search Historical Abstracts to find research about the Vietnam War.

Note: You will retrieve a large number of results, but not all of them will have the Vietnam War as their main focus.

 Now narrow your search down so that you only retrieve publications which have the Vietnam War as their main focus.

Tip: try changing the search field. Also, does it make a difference if you put Vietnam War in inverted commas?

 Now focus your search further still so that you find publications which relate to the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. Try altering your search terms to see how it affects your results.

 Explore other options for narrowing down your search (for example, by publication type, language, date etc).

 Now try the above four steps on the Scopus database. Do you find completely different results, or is there some overlap? If results are different, why do you think that might be? Keep your Scopus results on screen, as you'll need them for the task in Box 2.

2. Secondary literature: 360 degrees searching

Look at your results listing in Scopus. By default, they are listed in reverse chronological order. 

 Change the sort on option to display them by Cited by (highest) (you can find this option in the top right hand corner of your results listing). The publications which have received the most citations (i.e. other researchers have included them in their bibliographies) are listed at the top.

Obviously, a publication which has been heavily cited isn't necessarily 'better' than one which hasn't, but it may indicate that it has become significant in subsequent historical debate. 

If you want to see which other research has cited a particular publication, just click on the number in the Cited by field. You will see all the publications in Scopus which have cited your original publication.

Looking at citations is a useful way of tracking historiography forwards in time. You can think of it as the opposite of looking at the bibliography in an article or book, which takes you backwards in time through the research. If you use both these techniques when conducting your research, you should become a proficient 360 degree searcher! You can also do a 'cited by' search on Google Scholar.

Finished? Now work through at least two of the other boxes on this page to explore the best ways of finding other types of primary and secondary materials. 

3. Audiovisual material

Richard Mulcahy

Explore some of the resources below to find audiovisual material either relating to the Vietnam War, or another topic of interest to you.  Think about the following issues:

What information is provided about the materials you find? (e.g. date, provenance, location)

 How easy (or not) is it to find useful materials?

 What are the relative advantages and disadvantages for you when using audiovisual, rather than written sources, for your dissertation?

4. Digitised archival collections

The following resources provide access to a wide variety of archival materials which have been digitised. Explore one or two of them, and see if you can find anything which looks potentially useful for your dissertation, or for other modules. Think about the following:

 What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of consulting original archival materials as opposed to digitised versions?

 What other information would be useful for you in order to interpret and contextualise the archival materials you have found?

5. Newspapers

Cane farmers reading newspapers

Explore the sites below to find newspaper articles relating to your proposed dissertation topic, or any historical topic which interests you. Think about the following issues:

LEXIS just contains the text of articles, whereas the other resources include all content (images, adverts, original layout etc). Does this matter? How useful is the additional content for an historian?

Ease of searching - for example, could you pinpoint your search to find highly relevant articles?

6. Social media


You may already use social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and podcasts) for your social life, but have you ever thought whether it could help with your studies? Explore the links below and think how social media could be useful for you during your dissertation, and what pitfalls you would need to avoid.

 Archiving 'born digital' material is problematic (the first email ever sent hasn't been preserved). Should we even try to keep everything which is now published online?