Skip to Main Content


Subject Guide for history

Background Information

Background sources (e.g., reference databases, encyclopedias) provide overviews of topics. They can help you:

  • understand the context surrounding your topic
  • refine your research focus
  • identify effective search terms and strategies
  • in some cases, identify important historical documents and primary sources.

Finding Background Sources on a Specific Topic

The library has general encyclopedias and reference databases (like those listed in the next section), as well as more subject-specific encyclopedias and reference sources. In many cases, if a person has a fairly specific topic, a more subject-specific encyclopedia may be more helpful (though often it’s worth looking at both more general and more subject- specific encyclopedias).

Subject-specific encyclopedias

Use the Library Search (available from the Campbell Library homepage). Experiment with different keywords.

Sample searches:

  • encyclopedia child labor
  • encyclopedia child immigra* (Using ‘immigra*’ will give you variations of the word stem: immigrant, immigrants, immigration, etc.)

From the Library Search results page you can refine your results. For example:

  • Under the Resource Type filter you can limit to “Reference entries” like encyclopedia articles.
  • For print material only, under the “Limit to” select “Held by Library."

Reference Databases

For general encyclopedias reference databases, the Library has Britannica Academic and Credo Reference. These are available through links at the top of this page, as well as from the Library A-Z Databases List. These library databases on are accessible to RU students, faculty, and staff.


World History

U.S. History


Use a timeline to get a perspective on your topic.