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Historical Research Methods

An overview of finding primary and secondary resources in support of research.

Introduction & Starting Points


This website  has been produced to support Historical Methods classes at Rowan University. Tabs above will present various resources and other useful tools to help you find, evaluate, and organize materials you need for your research.  

We recommend that you spend some time on this page and review the information below. There you will find useful information about setting up Refworks, evaluation Web materials, and more.   

For additional assistance please contact the Library's History Liaison (contact info under the Site Info tab, above) or contact any of the librarians at Campbell Library.


Starting Points


RefWorks is a web-based reference management application. The Library subscribes to RefWorks and makes it freely available to all students and faculty.  On the Library website, under Quick Links,  click on RefWorks. You must go through the library so it knows you are a member of the Rowan community. 

It takes about 90 seconds to set up you account.   The page looks like this picture. Click on this image of Refworks to go to the library website. From there click on Refworks, found under Quick Links



Learn to use RefWorks with these great Videos on YouTube. If you are new, start with number I.  An ckeck back for reminders when you need them.

I. Learn to Use RefWorks in 20 Minutes

9 videos in 20 minutes will ensure you know how to take full advantage of RefWork's Capabilites

II. RefWorks Fundamentals

5 Videos cover the basics in more depth

III. RefWorks Advanced

6 videos cover the advanced features of RefWorks

IV. Sharing Your RefWorks References

6 videos cover enhancements that were made in 2013 

V. RefWorks Output Style Editor

5 videos cover aspects of the Output Style Editor

Wildcards and Truncation symbols have magical properties that will make you searches lest confusing and more effective. 

The first step is to  check the database you want to use to see what terms will work.  For example, in Ebsco databases, find and click on the "help" link, usually top right and click.  In the long list of help topics that appears, scroll to, click on the phrase:Truncation and Wildcards. It will present a description of what each symbol does. 

In Ebsco, thee are several: ?  #  and  *


The ? symbol replaces one letter with another letter.  So, for example to search for the word woman OR women, simply type wom?n.  Another example: dramatize OR dramatise, use the  ?:  dramati?e  

The # symbol indicates where a letter might be present. For example Colo#r will return the American spelling, Color OR the world spelling, Colour.   Note, with the symbolanother letter can be present, or not.  If you used the symbol, rather than the #, only colour would be returned. 


The * (shift-8 on your keyboard) is the most magical of all. It represents any number of letters, from none to many.

For eample, it can be used between letters.  Search f*z  and the database returns the following words: fez, fizz, fritz, frizz, fuzz.

OR, It can be used at the end of a series of letters. For example, geograph* will return geographic, geography, geographer, geographical.

It can even be used between words. For example, The * Revolution will return: The American Revolution,  The Green Revolution,  The French Revolution,  The Quiet Revolution, etc.

There are some others. Check the Help link on the databases to learn about them and how they work.  

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are used in most databases and in Google, although they have a slight variation there. See the Google YouTube tutorials un the the separate tab to learn more.   There are three operators:  OR | AND | NOT.

In this example using a Venn diagram, the Letters A and B represent different concepts, which you search in a database. Circle A represents all the records that mention Concept A. The same for Concept B, but the other circle, of course. 

OR: Think OR is MORE.  A Search for A OR B find records with only A records with only B and some records with both mentioned. All records in both Circle would be returned by the database search.

AND: is represented in the middle. AND mean both so only records with both are returned. Only AB would be returned.

NOT: is not represented in the diagram, but say you want articles about WASHINGTON (A) and STATE (B). The result would be A+B. However, A could be Washington, DC; Washington State; George Washington; George Washington Carver; and others.  Using NOT GeorgeNOT DC  eliminates the unwanted Washington records. 

A Critical View of Website Content

You want to use scholarly materials when doing your research. But how to be sure? Traditionally, scholarly materials have employed “peer-review” procedures for scholarly journal articles and of editorial oversight for the publishing of books. Websites, however, generally do not undergo such reviews, so how can one be sure of the legitimacy and quality of the content one finds online?    

One can find on the Internet many version of evaluation checklists to help you determine if a website of interest meets academic standards. A Google search of the terms “Evaluating websites” or similar will return a list of hundreds but all have similar characteristics. These include the following.


Is the site aimed at a general audience, students, or experts?  Is the language technical or Scholarly?  Check links and reference to help determine the level of the material.


Can you determine the author or organization responsible for the content?  Is there identifiable information about the author or organization?  Does the page include references or bibliographic Information?  Does the author have claim to authority on a topic, based on his education, credentials, and other publications that are listed on the site or which can be found by conducting a search.

Is there a tab or link about the site’s owner?  Is it a known institution or organization?  Can you find independent information about the author or organization? Is the organization related to your subject or topic? 


Currency is more important for some subject areas than it is for others. Notwithstanding that fact, has the site in question been updated recently?  Is the content current for the subject? For example facts about recent topics – say for example, the federal election process—can change from day to day.  Are the links on the page up to day? Are many broken? This could indicated a site which is not maintained.

Look to see if the website contain an extension such as: ‘.edu’  ‘.org‘  ‘.gov’  ‘.int.’   Not having one of these extension does not disqualify a site but these do indicated the source type.  Many sites present information of interest only to provide a sales pitch for a product. Some sites claim “fair and balanced reporting” but provide only opinion heavily slanted by a political or corporate agenda.

Keeping a critical eye as you review material presented on line, informed by items such as those listed above will help ensure you maintain a high level of information literacy.

Google Searching With Boolean Operators



Google Searching with Limiters



Searching Using Google Scholar


A special thanks to CCC for producing and making these YouTube videos available.


Find Books

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Library of Congress Classification

The Library of Congress subject headings system was originally designed as a controlled vocabulary to more accurately define the subject and form of the books and serials in the Library of Congress collection. As an increasing number of other libraries have adopted this system, it has become a tool for subject indexing of library catalogs in general. 

An example will help clarify this use of controlled vocabulary.  World War II is a huge topic of interest to many people.  Yet, when you search that phrase in our online catalog. There are a number of ways to refer to this war, including World War Two, World war II, WWII, WW2, the second World War, etc.  Each term will likely return a list of items when searched in the catalog. But note that for each search the catalog provides a link that reads "Related Headings."  When you click on this button, you learn that the proper "LC Subject term" is "World War, 1939-1945."  This is the official descriptor for this war and the term that will return the greatest number of items. Note on each bibliographic record returned in the catalog that there are extensions to the terms that further specify the work in question: for example, World War, 1939-1945--aerial operations to World War, 1939-1945--Atrocities to World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Africa North! 

As convoluted as LC subject headings may seem, they really do provide an unprecedented means of narrowing the focus of your research!  One of the biggest pitfalls for novice researchers is choosing a topic that is too broad for the scope of the assignment.  Take time to look through the sub
ject headings. You'll be rewarded by improved precision and quality of your searches.

Click here for a detailed look at the

Library of Congress Classification

Library Catalogs and Collections Databases

Campbell Library Catalog, Advanced Search

Search for materials physically held in the Library

E-Books at Rowan

E-Books purchased or leased are continually added to the E-Books database.

ProfSearch at Rowan University Libraries

ProfSearch is a "next-generation" discovery tool based on the ProQuest resource: Summon

The World's largest Library catalog. See everything most secondary materials on your subject.

Open Library

Access the combined titles from Internet Archive and Open Library, more than a million free titles. Also, set up an account and sign in with your NJ Library card for borrowing privileges to 200,000 modern titles.

Library of Congress Catalog

Many of the records in the Library of Congress Catalog contain links to digital versions of the items. 

Find Articles


The resources listed below are subscription databases; they cannot be accessed on the open web.  For the most part they are all scholarly based.  Only CQ Researcher does not meet the strict guidelines of "scholarly"; however, do not defer from searching this source as it is written and maintained by an organization of note.  If you are accessing any of the databases from off campus, you will be required to authenticate yourself as a current Rowan community member by keying in your Rowan u/n and p/w.

Other Databases of Note


Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.   A CD Rom database, held in Reserves at the Circulation Desk for use in the library.



This is a world-wide online catalog.  Search to find other books on your topic of interest.  If Rowan owns the book, the record will indicate this.  If we do not own it, click on




to request the book from another library.  Requests are filled in 3 - 5 days.


Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Select a link below to link to the Primary Sources Library Guides subject or listed alphabetically.

Selected Web Sites

Government -sponsored Sites

Edu Sponsored Sites

.Org Sites

Value-added Sites

Terms of Use, Contact, & Guide Info

Site Information

This library research guide was developed and is maintained by Bruce Whitham.  It is posted on the Rowan University Libraries' Library Guides site for the purpose of offering an introduction and a starting point for researching history topics.    Rowan library guides are hosted on the Springshare Libguides Portal, to which Rowan University Libraries subscribes.  Please send comments, suggestions, corrections to Bruce Whitham via email.

Rowan University makes no claim to freely available websites nor does it accept responsibility for the information or opinions expressed by those who have created or authored the content or by those who are quoted on the sites. Some resources to which this guide links are subscription based and may require a current user-name and password.  This page, and all links from this page are provided expressly for educational purposes. 


The use of this guide infers acceptance of the Terms of Use, spelled out on the Rowan University Libraries site. A link to the Terms of Use is provided. If you do not agree to abide by these terms you are required to leave the site.  

Many of the photos included on this Website are reproductions of original portraits in the Carnavalet Museum of the History of Paris.  A special nod to the Marxists Internet Archive for their efforts to gather, translate, and present on their web site many of the following important documents related to the French Revolution, to which this site links..  In addition, the site links to documents that are part of the Modern History Sourcebook, edited by Paul Halsall, and maintained on a server at Fordham University. 

As is the case with all research guides the French Revolution is a work in progress. Additions and adjustments will continue to be made as time for research permits.

Contact Information
Bruce Whitham, Research & Instructional Services.  Tel: (856) 256-4979. Email: