Skip to Main Content

Historical Research @ SCU

This guide is designed for non-history majors to cover the basics of conducting historical research.

What is historical research?

Every day, history influences our lives. Unresolved issues and ill-resolved circumstances create turbulence and conflict, as well as unexpected opportunities for change in our world. As a student of history, you will be asked to assess the events of the past and their effects on the lives of people and nations past and present through a research paper or perhaps an oral presentation, a poster, or a website.

[You will use] secondary works like books, journals, and magazines [and] primary sources like government documents, oral testimonies, letters, and diaries or the vast array of research material available through the Internet...

The Information Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (2013 p. 1)

Types of materials used in historical research

Vocabulary, Jargon, Lingo, Synonyms—Whatever You Want to Call It

(re-use on individual pages)


Printed, bound pages containing text about a single topic or a variety of topics

A.K.A. monographs, volumes, tomes, titles

Associated words:

Bibliography: A list of books and/or articles on a specific subject

Borrow [a book]: Take a book out of a lending library. Books that circulate can be lent and borrowed.

Book Stacks / Stacks: Shelves where books are stored

Call Number: The address of the book on the shelf. Use in combination with the location and status information in the book's catalog record.

Catalog: The list or database of books and other materials the library owns

Circulate: Books and items that can be borrowed are circulating

Record: The webpage of a book in the catalog

Request / Hold / Page: Ask the library to get and save a book for you to check out



Articles are generally 2-25 or so pages of text about a very specific topic, and articles compose the content of periodicals, that is, anything published at a periodic interval (daily, monthly, quarterly)

A.K.A. references, citations, sources

Associated words:



Search engine






Secondary Sources

e-journals / collections of e-journals

Full text


Primary Sources

Primary sources are anything created during the historical time you are studying that provide an insight into life and human experience at that time.

Associated words:


Newspaper articles

Government Documents



Oral Interviews

New broadcasts

Personal papers




The best websites you can use for historical research are those that contain or host primary sources, whether it be in database form, a virtual exhibit form, or other academic and historical presentation. Also use websites that come from Universities, nonprofits, and the government. Online bibliographies and research guides created by scholars and librarians can be extremely helpful. (Like this one!)

Associated words:

Digital collections

Digital library

Digital archive

Online repository

Research guides


Other materials (conference proceedings, dissertations, etc.)

Some other types of information you may encounter are conference proceedings, dissertations, reports, etc. They may need specialized treatment to access and evaluate.

Overview of SCU Library Tools

Library Website

This is your portal to using the Library's tools


Profile Photo
Undergraduate Learning Librarian